A federal appeals court on Friday threw out a case brought by four cisgender high school girls in Connecticut who claimed the state’s trans-inclusive sports policy violated their civil rights and deprived them of a “chance to be champions.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2020, had been seized on in recent years by state lawmakers and governors pushing anti-trans sports bans, with Republicans citing the claims made by the plaintiffs as they sought to prohibit trans girls and women from competing on teams that match their gender identity.
A federal district court judge dismissed the case in April 2021, saying the girls’ request to block the policy was moot because the two transgender athletes mentioned in the suit graduated in 2020 and there was “no indication” that the plaintiffs would again compete against trans athletes in the state. The district court also said the plaintiffs lacked the procedural threshold – known as standing – needed to bring the suit.
It its Friday ruling, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, writing in a scathing 29-page ruling that the plaintiffs’ claim that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy put them at a competitive disadvantage was unfounded.
“All four plaintiffs regularly competed at state track championships as high school athletes, where plaintiffs had the opportunity to compete for state titles in different events. And, on numerous occasions, plaintiffs were indeed ‘champions,’ finishing first in various events, even sometimes when competing against (Andraya) Yearwood and (Terry) Miller,” the ruling reads, referring to the two trans athletes, who later joined the suit to defend the CIAC policy.
“Plaintiffs simply have not been deprived of a ‘chance to be champions,’” the panel wrote.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative nonprofit that is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement following the ruling that they’re “evaluating all legal options, including appeal.”
“Our clients – like all female athletes – deserve access to fair competition,” Christiana Kiefer, the group’s senior counsel, said in the statement. “Every woman deserves the respect and dignity that comes with having an equal opportunity to excel and win in athletics, and ADF remains committed to protecting the future of women’s sports.”
The plaintiffs had argued that the CIAC policy is a violation of Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex. The policy, they said in the suit, results in “boys displacing girls in competitive track events in Connecticut.”
But the court disagreed with the plaintiffs’ Title IX claim, citing, among other things, a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that said federal civil rights law protects LGBTQ workers.
“Title IX includes language identical to that in Title VII, broadly prohibiting discrimination ‘on the basis of sex,’” they wrote. “Thus, it cannot be said that the policy – which prohibits discrimination based on a student’s transgender status by allowing all students to participate on gender specific teams consistent with their gender identity – ‘falls within the scope of Title IX’s proscriptions.’”
Though conservatives pushing anti-trans sports bans have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports, a 2017 report found “no direct or consistent research” on any such advantage.
The Connecticut lawsuit was unique in that it represented a rare instance in which a trans-inclusive sports policy was challenged by cisgender athletes. The legal battles around the issue have largely been brought by LGBTQ advocates, who have in recent years had some limited success in fighting the bans, including last year when a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its anti-trans sports ban.
“Today’s ruling is a critical victory for fairness, equality, and inclusion,” said Joshua Block, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who defended the Connecticut policy in court. “The court rejected the baseless zero-sum arguments presented by the opposition to this policy and ultimately found transgender girls have as much a right to play as cisgender girls under Title IX.”
Block added in a statement to CNN that the ACLU hopes the decision “finally puts this case to rest and allows everyone involved to move on with their lives.”
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.