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Court Upheld Policy To Allow Transgender Students To Compete Based On Gender Identity
Since 2013, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and its member high schools have followed the Transgender Participation Policy (Policy), which permits high school students to compete on gender-specific athletic teams consistent with their gender identity if that is different than the gender listed on their official birth certificates. Four female cisgender athletes (Athletes) attended CIAC member high schools and competed in CIAC-sponsored girls’ track events against female athletes who are transgender. The Athletes sued the CIAC and member high schools, alleging that the Policy violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 because the participation of transgender females in girls’ high school athletic events resulted in students who are born female having materially fewer opportunities for victory, public recognition, athletic scholarships, and future employment than students who are born male. The Athletes also alleged that the Policy impacted their individual achievements by depriving them of certain state championship titles and opportunities to advance to higher levels of statewide competition.
The Athletes requested damages and two injunctions, one to stop future enforcement of the Policy and one to alter the records of certain prior CIAC-sponsored girls’ track events to remove the records achieved by two transgender girls.
The trial court dismissed the claims on the grounds that stopping future enforcement of the Policy was moot, the Athletes lacked standing to assert a claim for an injunction to change the record books, and the Athletes’ claim for monetary damages was barred under prior case law. The Athletes appealed. The Athletes argued that they had standing because the Policy deprived them of a “chance to be champions,” and that the CIAC’s current records perpetuate past injury because the records fail to appropriately credit female achievements, causing the athletes to feel “erased.” The Athletes also argued that the current records affect future employment opportunities and correcting the records would redress this harm.
To establish standing, plaintiffs must show that (1) they suffered an injury in fact; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. The Court of Appeals found that the Athletes lacked standing because the Athletes did not suffer an injury in fact and any harm could not be redressed.
The Court of Appeals stated that the Athletes were not deprived of a chance to be champions due to the CIAC current records, nor were they deprived of future employment opportunities. The Athletes all had the opportunity to compete at state track championships as high school athletes and had the opportunity to compete for state titles in different events. The Athletes were champions, finishing first in various events, even sometimes when competing against transgender athletes. The Court of Appeals also found that altering the records would not redress any harm because the races were run in conformity with the rules in effect at that time.
The Athletes argued that the records “could” affect their prospects at future employment, which the Court of Appeal determined was not sufficient to establish an injury. Further, rewriting the high school athletics records would not necessarily change the Athletes’ employment prospects.
In order for the Athletes to succeed in their claim for damages, the CIAC and member high schools must have had notice that they could be liable under Title IX because of the Policy. The Court of Appeals looked to guidance from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the agency responsible for Title IX’s enforcement, and to relevant decisions from the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. OCR’s position with regard to transgender students’ participation in athletics has fluctuated with the changes in presidential administrations in 2016 and 2020. However, even with these fluctuations, OCR never clearly provided that allowing transgender students to participate on athletic teams consistent with their gender identity violated Title IX. The Court of Appeal also considered a recent Supreme Court case, which said it is unlawful to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation in the workplace. As such, the Athletes’ claims for monetary damages were barred.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the complaint.
Soule by Stanescu v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Inc. (2d Cir. 2022) 57 F.4th 43.
This case is from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This case shows how one federal appellate court interpreted a plaintiff’s Title IX claim in regard to transgender athletics, a topic that is coming up more frequently for schools.