About the Case
Madison v. Marbury Public School District
Summary of Case:
On November 14, 2008, James Madison, a male student at Thomas Jefferson High School, was suspended for violating the school’s dress code after he wore and refused to change out of a pink dress. While Madison had mixed motives for wearing the dress, including his desire “to look and feel good,” he donned it on that particular Friday to show support for anti-Proposition 8 rallies going on across the country that weekend. Proposition 8, a California ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in that state, had passed a little over a week before and had been a much talked about topic among students at the high school.
The dress code for Thomas Jefferson High School specifically requires that clothing be “gender appropriate.” It also defines permitted “top wear” and “bottom wear” for male and female students. Females are permitted to wear skirts and dresses, but males are not. The day that Madison wore his dress to school he got into a lunchtime discussion with fellow students about marriage equality. The conversation spilled over into his history class, where students talked about the role tradition plays in society. The history teacher, Mr. John Jay, said he considered the class among the best he’d conducted all year.
Madison then proceeded to Ms. Alexa Hamilton’s English class. She found the dress distracting and was particularly bothered by the snickering among students while she taught the Shakespearean play famous for its cross-dressing characters, As You Like It. Ms. Hamilton sent Madison to Principal Jane Marshall’s office and, when Madison refused to change his attire, he was suspended.
Madison sued Marshall and the Marbury Public School District for violating his right to free expression and for discriminating against him on the basis of his gender. The federal court for the District of New Jersey awarded summary judgment to the school district on both issues; Madison has appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.