Miss. student settles lawsuit after being excluded from yearbook because of her tuxedo

The Mississippi teenager whose yearbook portrait was removed because she wore a tuxedo will have her photo displayed alongside her classmates’ in the school library, as part of a settlement reached with the school district last week.

The Copiah County School District also will scrap its portrait policy that required male students to wear tuxedos and female students to wear drapes for their official yearbook photos, the ACLU of Mississippi announced.

Instead, all students will don graduation caps and gowns for their photos.

Ceara Sturgis, a 2010 graduate of the Wesson Attendance Center, filed a discrimination lawsuit “on the basis of sex and on the basis of sex stereotypes” against the eastern Mississippi school district in August 2010.

Sturgis, who prefers more masculine clothing, felt “uncomfortable” wearing the drape, designed to mimic a dress, in her photo. After being allowed by the photographer to wear a tuxedo instead, she was told her picture wouldn’t appear in the yearbook because it violated school policy, which Sturgis and the ACLU argued is “impermissible sex discrimination.”

“It was as though I didn’t even exist in my senior class,” Sturgis wrote in a Dec. 8 post on the ACLU of Mississippi’s website.

In September, a district judge denied the school district’s motion to dismiss the case, and three months later the issue has been resolved without trial.

“Hopefully no other students will be excluded from this important rite of passage simply for expressing themselves,” said Bear Atwood, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, in a press release. “Copiah County School District has done the right thing by changing the yearbook policy so no students have to feel as if they’re out of place.”

Public schools should not make a student feel like an “outcast,” Sturgis wrote, and this includes the “significant rite of passage” of a yearbook.

“It’s important that nobody else will be forced to wear something that doesn’t reflect who they are,” she said.