A new lawsuit filed this month in federal court alleges that the Laurel County School District in Kentucky discriminated against a male student in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and denied him equal protection under the United States and Kentucky Constitutions. In particular, the lawsuit claims that the District enforces different rules relating to middle school athletics for boys and girls basketball. While girls are permitted to play on multiple teams for varying grade levels simultaneously, the suit alleges, boys are required to “Play Up. Stay Up.” In other words, according to the Complaint, if a boy plays on a higher grade level team he is not then permitted to also play on a lower grade level team.
Historically, Title IX has been used by litigants to gain entrance for female athletes to athletic programs because it prohibits excluding persons or denying them the benefits of educational programs on the basis of sex. More broadly, however, Title IX also prohibits other forms of inequality by disallowing “discrimination under any education program or activity” which receives federal funds. In responding to the suit, the District has noted a gender-neutral justification to explain the rule: the lack of female athletes to fill the girls basketball teams. Yet, at this early juncture, it remains unclear whether that justification will be sufficient to salvage the rule. Though the case is at its earliest stages, it will be one for other school districts in the Sixth Circuit to watch.