Appeals court revives female athletes' challenge to Connecticut policy allowing males in girls' sports

Selina Soule
Selina Soule | Alliance Defending Freedom

A federal appeals court has agreed to rehear a legal challenge against a Connecticut athletics association policy allowing biological males who identify as female to compete in girls' athletic competitions.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted an en-banc hearing for four former Connecticut high school track runners who sued the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference in 2020. A three-judge panel dismissed the case in December. 

According to the announcement, a majority of the judges on the circuit voted to have the case reheard before the entire court.

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The case centers on litigation filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of student-athletes Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Ashley Nicoletti, Alanna Smith, and their parents. The plaintiffs allege that the student-athletes lost to two biological male runners in an important race that made it so the female runners didn't make the cut for a regional track championship attended by college scouts. 

ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer said in a statement Monday that she believes all female athletes "deserve access to fair competition."

"We're pleased the 2nd Circuit has decided to rehear this important case, and we urge the court to protect women's athletic opportunities," stated Kiefer.

"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."

U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny, a Clinton appointee, dismissed the lawsuit in April 2021, concluding that "courts across the country have consistently held that Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity."

Last December, a three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously against the plaintiffs, with Circuit Judge Denny Chin authoring the panel opinion. The lawsuit was deemed moot since the four athletes have graduated from high school.

"Courts of Appeals considering whether Title IX prohibits schools from treating transgender students consistent with their gender identity have held that the statute does not," wrote Chin, appointed by President Barack Obama.

"Although these cases from our sister circuits do not address the exact issue of participation of transgender athletes on gender-specific sports teams, such authority nonetheless establishes that discrimination based on transgender status is generally prohibited under federal law."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which defended the policy on behalf of two trans-identified students, celebrated the panel ruling.

"Trans student athletes belong on our sports teams and in our schools, and all trans youth should be celebrated and protected for who they are," Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

"Today, the courts have once again dismissed this lawsuit seeking to attack trans student athletes. The record shows that our clients played by the rules, and the court agreed."

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