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Hawaii High School Sports Lawsuit Could Define Title IX

High school girls battle it out on the soccer field

"It has the potential to really be a wake-up call for schools that continue to ignore the law and don’t take it seriously."

The largest public high school in Hawaii is facing a potential landmark Title IX lawsuit over unequal treatment of female athletes.

Former student athletes at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach have accused the district of systemic gender discrimination against its girls' sports teams.

According to the plaintiffs, the school does not have a women's locker room. Ashley Badis, a former student athlete at James Campbell, told The New York Timesthat girls often have to change under bleachers, or use the bathroom at a nearby Burger King. In some cases, teams would have no coach, or would not be allowed to practice until after the boy's teams finished.

“Hearing how many concerns and complaints that they had — it made me feel like I’m not alone in this, but it’s so wrong that we’re all being treated like this,” Badis said. “I wanted to make sure that things are better for future generations. I didn’t want them to go through what I had to.”

Badis shared that upon learning that she filed the suit, school officials retaliated against her and the other plaintiffs. Administrators threatened to cancel their athletics seasons over missing medical and consent forms, despite the teams submitting everything.

The ACLU of Hawaii partnered with Legal Aid at Work, a nonprofit in San Francisco, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Badis and her fellow plaintiffs in December 2018. Finally, in July 2022, the case was allowed to proceed as a class action. A trial date has been set for October 2023.

The Title IX 1972 federal law prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings, though has mostly focused on equal opportunities in college sports. In cases of Title IX violations, schools typically choose to settle lawsuits without escalating to trial, making Hawaii's case a rare exception.

Even more exceptional, the lawsuit was approved to escalate on the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX. Hawaii was also home to former U.S. representative Patsy T. Mink, who pioneered the policy.

Elizabeth Kristen, a senior staff attorney with Legal Aid at Work, added: “The irony is that the month we were there to file in 2018, the state of Hawaii was dedicating a statue to Patsy Mink."

Ellen J. Staurowsky, professor of sports media at Ithaca College, believes that Hawaii's recent case could be a chance to hold James Campbell and other offending schools accountable to Mink's standards.

“What strikes me in this 50th anniversary year is just how little we actually know about what is going on in the high school space. I think this case is important, foundationally. It has the potential to really be a wake-up call for schools that continue to ignore the law and don’t take it seriously," she said. "If we can’t get it right in a state that [Mink] represented, then we have some really serious thinking to do.”

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