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Federal lawsuit in CIAC transgender case dismissed by judge – The Collinsville Press
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Federal lawsuit in CIAC transgender case dismissed by judge

In May 2019, Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell, center, leads Bloomfield’s Terry Miller, left, and Cromwell’s Andraya Yearwood, right, in the 100 meters finals of the CIAC Class S championship meet in New Britain.

A lawsuit seeking to prevent transgender athletes from competing against girls in high school sports in Connecticut has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Robert Chatigny, a U.S. District Court judge, dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds on Sunday saying that the suit was moot because the two transgender athletes named in the lawsuit have graduated and the plaintiffs have not identified any other transgender athletes that might compete against on the track.

In 2019, Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell was one of three high school athletes who filed a federal suit claiming that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC) policy to allow transgender students to compete in girls sports was a violation of Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that requires public schools to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities.

“I conclude that the plaintiffs’ challenge to the CIAC policy is not justiciable at this time and their claims for monetary relief are barred and dismiss the action on this basis without addressing the other grounds raised in the joint motion,” Chatigny wrote in a ruling released Sunday. He did not rule on the merits of the case.

The two transgender athletes, Bloomfield High’s Terry Miller and Cromwell’s Andraya Yearwood, have graduated from their respective high schools along with at least two of the plaintiffs in the case – Mitchell and Selina Soule of Glastonbury.

Mitchell is currently a freshman at Willian and Mary, where she is competing on the women’s track team. She set a new freshman record in the 100 meters (12.11 seconds) last week and was part of a 4×100 meter relay team that set a new school record (46.85 seconds) breaking the old mark set in 2004.

The remaining two plaintiffs (Danbury High junior Alanna Smith and Immaculate-Danbury junior Ashley Nicoletti), according to Chatigny, have been unable to identify a transgender athlete that they might possibly compete against.  Nicoletti joined the lawsuit after it was initially filed.

“I conclude that the request to enjoin enforcement of the CIAC policy has become moot due to the graduation of Yearwood and Miller, whose participation in girls’ track provided the impetus for this action,” Chatigny wrote. “There is no indication that [Alanna] Smith and [Ashley] Nicoletti will encounter competition by a transgender student in a CIAC-sponsored event next season.”

The judge did say that Smith and Nicoletti would be able to file a new action for a preliminary injunction, if they competed against another transgender athlete.

“The district court’s decision recognized that the CIAC policy reflects the federal guidance in place at the time it was adopted,” said Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC in a statement. “The CIAC has maintained throughout this lawsuit that its inclusive participation policy aligns with both federal and state law. The CIAC continues to welcome and support inclusive education-based athletic participation, including by transgender students.”

“Transgender youth, just like all other youth, belong in our schools and on our sports teams,” said Elana Bildner, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut. “Connecticut’s laws preventing discrimination against transgender people and its policies preventing discrimination against trans youth in school and sports are consistent with federal law.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Mitchell and the other three athletes said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

“It’s discouraging that the court ruled to dismiss my right to compete on a level playing field,” Mitchell said in a statement released by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing the plaintiffs who brough the lawsuit.

“Today’s ruling ignores the physical advantages that male athletes have over female athletes. Female athletes like me should have the opportunity to excel and compete fairly. 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,” Mitchell said.

The dispute centered around transgender athletes Miller and Yearwood. Both identified as males at birth. But now, they identify as female and CIAC rules allow athletes to compete based on the gender they identify as.

As a sophomore, Miller competed for Bulkeley in Hartford before transferring to Bloomfield and competing with the Warhawks for two years. Yearwood attended Cromwell for four years. Both graduated in June 2020.

Cisgender athletes claimed in their federal lawsuit that they lost opportunities to compete at the State Open or the New England championships with Miller and Yearwood in the field. Cisgender are people that identify with their gender assigned at birth.

The top five finishers in each individual event at the CIAC class meet (LL, L, MM, M and S) qualify for the State Open with an allowance for athletes who met a certain time or distance standard. The top six finishers at the Open earn a spot at the New England championships.

According to the lawsuit, Miller and Yearwood won 15 state championships in outdoor track and field and indoor track and field since 2017.

In 2019, Miller won her second straight State Open championship in the 200 meters in outdoor track and field. A week earlier, she swept the 100 and 200 meter races at the Class S championship, beating Mitchell and setting new Class S records in the two victories.

Mitchell won the 100 meter title at the State Open in June 2019 with a new school record time of 11.67 seconds after Miller was disqualified in the finals for a false start. Yearwood was fourth in that race.

Mitchell went onto capture the 2019 New England championship in the 100, becoming the first Canton girl to capture a New England title. She was later named the girls track athlete of the year by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.

The 2020 outdoor track season was cancelled this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the athletes did compete during the indoor track and field season. Mitchell won three titles at the Class S meet in February 2020, including the 55 meters where she beat Miller for the first time by 0.02 of a second.

A week later, Mitchell won the 55 meters again with Miller finishing third. At the 2020 New England championship, Mitchell was second in the 55 meters with Miller finishing fifth.

While the judge’s decision dismisses the federal lawsuit, recent decisions and statements by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education in 2020 were reversed in February.

In February 2020, under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter of impending enforcement action to the CIAC and the six schools that said the CIAC policy violates federal law. The OCR said the policy gives the transgender athletes an unfair advantage and has deprived athletes – including Mitchell — of opportunities to qualify, compete and win at the State Open and New England track and field championship events.

The OCR letter said that the CIAC and the six schools – Canton, Bloomfield, Cromwell, Danbury, Glastonbury and Hartford (Bulkeley) – could have lost federal funding. The OCR said that Canton, Glastonbury and Danbury violated Title IX regulations because they allowed their athletes to compete against transgender athletes.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education withdrew the OCR enforcement action.

More information on this case, primarily legal documents, from:

ACLU

Alliance Defending Freedom

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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