Ruling sides with female athletes at Hawaii high school

HONOLULU — A U.S. appeals court ruling said a judge was wrong to deny class-action status to Hawaii female high school athletes suing over gender discrimination.

Their 2018 lawsuit said they were discriminated against because Campbell High School — Hawaii’s largest public high school — didn’t have a girls locker room. They also argued girls at the Ewa Beach school had inferior practice and game facilities compared to boys.

Monday’s ruling by a panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a U.S. judge’s ruling in Hawaii that said the lawsuit failed to meet certain requirements for class action.

The panel said the district court failed to give appropriate weight to the large number of plaintiffs, which were expected to top 300. The ruling said that U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi also erred in not adequately considering future female athletes at the school.

Kobayashi’s 2019 ruling would have required hundreds of separate lawsuits, attorneys representing the plaintiffs said.

“This case is still being actively litigated, and we are thus unable to provide a statement at this time,” Gary Yamashiroya, spokesperson for the Hawaii attorney general’s office, which represents the state Department of Education, said Tuesday.

A lawyer representing the lawsuit’s other defendant, Oahu Interscholastic Association, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The ruling noted that female athletes at Campbell have no locker room, while male athletes have a large locker room near the athletic fields and that female athletes “must carry their athletic gear around with them all day and have resorted to changing in teachers’ closets, in the bathroom of the nearest Burger King, and even on the practice field, potentially in full view of bystanders.”

The lawsuit also said boys’ sports programs are all well-equipped at Campbell, but the girls’ water polo and soccer programs don’t have adequate gear and facilities, and that coaches for girls’ teams are generally paid less than boys’ team coaches.

“Indeed, the complaint alleges that on multiple occasions, the girls’ water polo team lacked any access to a pool for practice, leaving them ‘no choice but to hold dry-land training sessions and open-ocean swim practices,’” the ruling said.

School administrators retaliated against the students who filed the lawsuit by threatening to cancel the girls’ water polo program and by making the team needlessly resubmit paperwork, the lawsuit said.


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