ACLU Hawai‘i Lawsuit Claims Unequal Treatment of Girls’ Athletic Programs
Two female student-athletes attending James Campbell High School on Oʻahu filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on Thursday against the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and the Oʻahu Interscholastic Association.
The lawsuit is brought under Title IX, also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, a federal law that requires gender equity in education, including in athletics.
The plaintiffs, who are senior female athletes on the water polo and swim teams, allege they were discriminated against on the basis of sex.
The lawsuit describes multiple violations including allegations that male athletes at Campbell have a standalone athletic locker room facility located near the athletic fields, while female athletes have no facility and have to change clothes in teachers’ closets, in a fast food restaurant bathroom, and even on the practice field.
According to the complaint, “To go to the bathroom, female athletes must run back to the campus gym (which is located roughly two football fields in length away), use decrepit porta-potties (which are sometimes locked), or face having to crouch down in the bushes. Perhaps most important, female athletes must carry the burden of knowing their educational institution does not value them as much—that they are, in essence, second-class—just because they are female.”
The Department of Education responded to Maui Now’s request for comment saying they have not received nor had a chance to review the lawsuit and are unable to provide information or a comment due to pending litigation.
The ACLU claims that the DOE has known about unmet deficiencies relating to Title IX compliance since at least as early as 1978. According to the complaint, “what followed was four decades of delay in providing female athletes with treatment, benefits, and opportunities equal to those received by male athletes…”
ACLU of Hawai‘i Executive Director Joshua Wisch commented in a press release saying, “Litigation is always our last resort. But unfortunately, nearly half a century after Title IX was passed and after almost 10 months of trying to work with the DOE, it still failed to produce a substantive plan to comply with the law. And unfortunately, some schools have doubled down on violating Title IX. As noted in our complaint, after the plaintiffs complained formally to Campbell’s administrators, the school retaliated by threatening to ‘cancel’ the girls’ water polo program and even withheld funding and other support from it. This is unacceptable.”
The lawsuit claims that “as a result of the DOE’s inattention to girls’ sports, the Campbell girls’ water polo program was left with no choice but to hold dry-land training sessions and open-ocean swim practices at Puuloa Beach Park.”
The suit also claims that the team played at least two regular season games “without having had a single minute of practice time in a pool.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, Hawaiʻi chapter has challenged the DOE over Title IX in the past. In 2010, the ACLU of Hawai‘i won a lawsuit against the DOE over gender inequities in the girls’ softball program at Maui’s Baldwin High School.