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Beattie v. Line Mountain School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 13, 2014

BRIAN and ANGIE BEATTIE, on behalf of their minor daughter, A.B., Plaintiffs
v.
LINE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Brian Beattie, On Behalf of Their Minor Daughter, A.B., Angie Beattie, On Behalf of Their Minor Daughter, A.B., Plaintiffs: Abbe F. Fletman, LEAD ATTORNEY, FLASTER GREENBERG, P.C., Philadelphia, PA; Terry L. Fromson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Women's Law Project, Philadelphia, PA.

For PENNSYLVANIA WRESTLING CLUB, INC., Intervenor Plaintiff: David C. Shipman, Elion, Wayne, Grieco, Carlucci, Shipman & Irwin, PC, Williamsport, PA; Lawrence M. Otter, Lawrence M. Otter, Attorney at Law, Doylestown, PA.

For Line Mountain School District, Defendant: Christopher J. Conrad, Nicole M. Ehrhart, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman and Goggin, Camp Hill, PA.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM

Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

The case before the Court concerns whether a twelve year old girl can pursue her passion for wrestling on her public school's male wrestling team. Line Mountain School District (" Defendant" or " School District" ) maintains a policy prohibiting female students from participating on the all-male junior high and high school wrestling teams. Plaintiffs Brian and Angie Beattie bring this action on behalf of their minor daughter, A.B., claiming the Defendant's policy constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.[1] Pls.'s Compl. 1, Oct. 28, 2013, ECF No. 1.

The Plaintiffs filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction on October 30, 2013 (ECF No. 5). The Defendant was temporarily restrained from taking any action that would interfere with A.B.'s efforts to participate on the Line Mountain junior high wrestling team pursuant to this Court's Order of November 1, 2013 (ECF No. 8). The Court subsequently conducted a hearing on the matter on November 21, 2013, and took testimony from the parties and their respective witnesses. The Court then issued a briefing schedule. After review and consideration of the briefs submitted, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

As elaborated below, the Court grants the Plaintiffs's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 5). The Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

The Plaintiff, A.B., is a twelve year old female student who attends seventh grade at Line Mountain Middle School. Transcript, Brian Beattie (" B. Beattie" ), 12:11; 14:17-20; 15:6-8., Nov. 27, 2013, ECF No. 36 [hereinafter Tr.]. Line Mountain School District, which consists of the Middle School and a High School, is a public school district located in southern Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. Tr., David M. Campbell [2] (" Campbell" ), 162:22-25.

A.B. began wrestling on her school team in Le Mars, Iowa in third grade, and continued wrestling there during the fourth and fifth grades. Tr., A.B., 63:13-17. On that team, A.B. practiced and competed with both boys and girls. Tr., B. Beattie, 19:13-16, 20:8-10; A.B., 63:20-21.

In the summer of 2012, the Beattie family moved to Pennsylvania, and A.B. began attending Line Mountain Middle School that autumn. Tr., B. Beattie, 13:5-10; A.B., 63:23-25. During that 2012-13 school year, A.B. wrestled on the Line Mountain youth team, which is open to students through sixth grade. Tr., Ronald

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Neidig [3] (" Neidig" ), 41:5-14; A.B., 64:3-7; Campbell, 163: 21-164:8-10.

On the youth wrestling team, A.B. practiced and competed against boys and girls, including some older, high school age male wrestlers. Tr., A.B. 57:7-9, 64:8-12, 73:9-10. A.B. enjoyed some level of success on the team, participating in every dual meet and achieving a record of five wins and three losses against boys and one girl. Tr., A.B., 65:17-20; Neidig, 49:3-9, 54:12-16. A.B. also participated in at least four tournaments against boys and achieved second and third place finishes. Tr., A.B., 66:3-16. No boy refused to wrestle A.B. due to her gender. Tr., B. Beattie, 20:23-21:2.

Toward the end of that 2012-13 youth wrestling season, Mr. Beattie learned that the School District maintains a policy prohibiting girls from participating on the boys' junior high and high school wrestling teams. Tr., B. Beattie, 16:12-23; Pis.'s Ex. 1, Nov. 18, 2013, ECF No. 20-1. District Policy 123.1, entitled " Gender Participation on Athletic Teams," was adopted July 26, 2005, and prohibits female students from participating on male varsity, junior varsity, and junior high athletic teams because of safety concerns regarding the " physiological differences between male and female athletes." [4] Tr., B. Beattie, 16:12-23; Pls.'s Ex. 1, Nov. 18, 2013, ECF No. 20. Mr. Beattie realized this policy would prevent A.B. from wrestling the following year, the 2013-14 season, because she would be ineligible for the youth team due to age and the junior high team due to gender.

After learning about this policy, Mr. Beattie attended Line Mountain School Board meetings on April 9 and 23, 2013 to investigate the impact of the policy on A.B.'s prospects to continue wrestling. Tr., B. Beattie, 16:24-25, 17:4-7. At the meetings the School Board informed Mr. Beattie that it would enforce the Policy, and that A.B. would not be permitted to participate on the junior high wrestling team in the coming year. Tr., B. Beattie, 17:22-24, 18:1-7.

The School District asserts it maintains Policy 123.1 because of the obligations imposed by its in loco parentis relationship with its students.[5] Tr., Campbell, 166:8-16. This obligation inspires the School District's stated objective to protect all students and provide a safe environment for students. Tr., Troy Laudenslager [6]

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(" Laudenslager" ), 88:19-20; Campbell, 166:19. To do so, the District asserts it " must identify and try to foresee potential problems for students including social, mental, and moral dilemmas, especially, in this case, with regard to athletics, given the clear anatomical differences between adolescent males and females." Def.'s Proposed Findings Fact Conclusions Law v, ¶ 11, Dec. 16, 2013, ECF No. 42 [hereinafter Def.'s Br.]; Tr., Campbell, 166:22-23. The School District maintains that Policy 123.1 and its accompanying prohibition on females wrestling on the boys team are vital to those efforts. Tr., Lauren Hackenburg [7] (" Hackenburg" ), 134:10-25.

The School Board maintains that a principle justification for prohibiting females from wrestling is the anatomical differences between males and females: that boys are generally stronger and have less body fat than girls, and, consequently, that girls are at a greater risk of injury than boys. Tr., Neidig, 44:3-7, 45:11-12; 46:9-16, 56:12-18; Laudenslager, 87: 10-88:1, 107:17-20; Hackenburg, 134:17-135:1, 134:23-135:1. According to the School District, these generalized anatomical differences render the prohibition on female wrestlers necessary to protect student safety. School District witnesses agreed, however, that individual females may be stronger than individual males of the same weight, and also that some boys could have more body fat than girls of the same weight.[8] Tr., Neidig, 53:12-15; Laudenslager, 97:18-23, 98:18-22; Hackenburg, 145:13-16; Darin Keim [9] (" Keim" ), 154:15-23. The School District also could not identify a single example where a female wrestler was injured by a male wrestler, and agreed that boys who wrestle are also at some risk of injury. Tr., Neidig, 46:14-16, 50:7-8, 53:10-11,57:20-21, 60:4-5; Laudenslager, 112:23-25; Campbell, 180:2-4, 14-18.

Another justification advanced by the School District for maintaining the Policy is that girls are at a greater risk of inappropriate sexual contact and harassment when they wrestle due to their obvious anatomical differences. Tr., Neidig, 47:22-48:4; Laudenslager, 86:17-20, 125:9-127:10; Hackenburg, 134:17-21, 138:5-15. The School District witnesses agreed, however, that both sexual harassment and the touching of intimate body parts could occur just as easily with two boys wrestling. Tr., Laudenslager, 122:25-123:3; Hackenburg, 146:11-13; Campbell, 171:7-10. The School District does not prohibit boys from wrestling boys on this basis. Tr., Neidig, 53:3-5.

Moreover, A.B. testified that she " had been taught the difference between good touching and bad touching," and that if someone were to ever touch her inappropriately she would push them away " and go get help." Tr., A.B., 64:13-25. The School District maintains policies prohibiting unlawful harassment and prescribing means for redress and discipline. Tr., Neidig, 51:18-23; Laudenslager, 119:4-120:7; Campbell, 181:11-182:10; Pls.'s Exs. 7, 8, 9.

A third justification the School Board asserts for the prohibition is the perceived emotional, psychological, and moral risks of girls wrestling boys. Tr., Laudenslager,

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86:9-11; Hackenburg, 140:16-19. The School District is " concerned with the potential lowering of students' inhibitions, desensitizing them and possibly impacting moral standards for all those who participate in the sport." Def.'s Br., at x, ΒΆ 44; Tr., Laudenslager, 128:14-20. The School District did not present expert testimony regarding any emotional or psychological risks from allowing coeducational wrestling. Its evidence consisted of lay opinions " that there's a certain moral wrongness" to girls and boys wrestling, since physical ...


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