Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Targeting Transgender Track Athletes

A federal judge in Connecticut tossed a politically charged suit that stated two transgender girls should not have been allowed to compete in girls’ track.

(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay)

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — Calling the controversy moot, a federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit backed by a religious group, which sought to bar two Black transgender athletes from participating in high school girls’ track.

According to the judge, the underlying case is no longer actionable because the two transgender athletes had not competed last spring when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and both have since graduated high school.

Last year, high school seniors Selina Soule and Chelsea Mitchell, as well as sophomores Alanna Smith and Ashley Nicoletti, sued the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, alleging the group unfairly allowed transgender students to compete with other athletes of the same gender identity. The four girls were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that has spearheaded a number of legal cases on transgender issues.

They claimed that the new policy “is now regularly resulting in boys displacing girls in competitive track events in Connecticut.” They also alleged the policy resulted in “students who are born female now [having] materially fewer opportunities to stand on the victory podium, fewer opportunities to participate in post-season elite competition, fewer opportunities for public recognition as champions.”  

Specifically, the four female students took issue with the fact that two transgender seniors — Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — had been allowed to compete against them in outdoor track.

In the ruling, issued over the weekend, Judge Robert Chatigny wrote that because Yearwood and Miller have graduated, and Soule, Mitchell, Smith, and Nicoletti have not identified any new transgender athletes as defendants, there is no injury to redress.

“It is still theoretically possible that a transgender student could attempt to [run in girls’ track],” the judge wrote. “Even then, however, a legally cognizable injury to these plaintiffs would depend on a transgender student running in the same events and achieving substantially similar times.”

In separate statements, the four students said they were disappointed in the court’s ruling.

“It’s discouraging that the court ruled to dismiss my right to compete on a level playing field,” Mitchell said in a statement. “No girl should have to settle into her starting blocks knowing that, no matter how hard she works, she doesn’t have a fair shot at victory.”

However, the American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented Yearwood and Miller, lauded the decision.

“This is yet another sign that lawmakers attacking trans youth in states around the country have no legal basis for their claims,” said Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “When Andraya and Terry ran in high school, they belonged on the girls’ teams because they are girls.”

The lawsuit has been a political football over the last year. Initially, the U.S. Department of Education had investigated the complaint and had sided with the four female students, but it stopped short from preventing Yearwood or Miller from competing. Under the Trump administration, the Education Department’s civil rights division also had rescinded a previous Obama administration mandate stating that transgender students must be allowed to participate in athletics consistent with their gender identity.

After the White House changed hands earlier this year, the Biden administration withdrew support for the female students’ complaint.  At no time in either administration, however, did the agency tell the state athletic conference that it would be liable for monetary damages if it permitted Yearwood or Miller from competing in girls’ track.

By the time the four female students filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction, the Covid-19 pandemic had struck and track was suspended along with all other interscholastic athletics. Yearwood now attends North Carolina Central University. Like Yearwood, Miller has graduated high school and has not pursued an athletic career.

In his ruling, Chatigny also rejected the request to strike Yearwood and Miller from the disputed races’ order of finish and move all the other competitors up a position in each race, noting that the requested measure “might well have no bearing” on the cisgender athletes’ prospects for job opportunities or scholarships.

Chatigny, who was appointed by Bill Clinton, noted that three of the four cisgender students would not have had much different placements in their track events if they had not competed against Yearwood or Miller. Only Mitchell would have seen a different outcome, but even then “a prospective employer impressed by her record would learn that she did not actually finish first in the four races.”

The ADF, which said “there’s something bigger at stake here” than the four track students’ records, will appeal the ruling.

“Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls; that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place,” ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this court has chosen to ignore our clients’ demoralizing experiences of losing to male runners.”

During the trial, ADF attorney Roger Brooks for the female students had asked for Chatigny’s recusal from the case, after he chastised him for repeatedly referring to Yearwood and Miller as males. In a footnote, Chatigny wrote that he felt that calling the transgender students “males” was needlessly provocative. The ADF refers to Yearwood and Miller as males in its statements and a related blog post.

According to Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the group is pleased with with the court’s decision.

“The CIAC has maintained throughout this lawsuit that its inclusive participation policy aligns with both federal and state law, and it was prepared to defend this lawsuit on the merits had there been any basis for it to continue,” Lungarini said in a statement provided to Courthouse News.

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