High School Girls’ Tournament Venue Must Only Be Comparable to Boys’, Not Equal

Mar 13, 2004

A United States District Court denied a motion for preliminary injunction last month, which would have forced the Minnesota State High School League (“League”) to secure a bigger venue for the high school girl’s hockey state tournament.
The decision allowed the league to keep the scheduled event at the Ridder Arena, a smaller but comparable venue. The court found that the League’s choice of the Ridder Arena did not violate Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) or the Minnesota equivalent of Title IX, Minn. Stat. § 121A.04.
The court found that the plaintiffs’ most persuasive argument, lack of seating capacity, to be without merit because there was no statistical evidence presented to bolster that position. Without such proof, the court called this argument merely an allegation, which is insufficient to support a preliminary injunction, according to the judge.
Moreover, the Court pointed out that since the bigger Xcel Energy Center (“Xcel”) was not a party to this litigation it could not be forced to host the girls’ tournament—even if the plaintiffs succeeded in the action.
In 2001, the League began planning for the 2004 boys’ and girls’ ice hockey tournament and solicited bids from area arenas at that time. One criterion for the venue was that the facility should have a seating capacity of 4,000. Xcel, which offered more than the requested seating capacity, submitted a bid only for the boys’ tournament. Xcel had a conflict with the dates of the girls’ tournament because it was already hosting a dance team and girls’ volleyball tournament at that time. The league chose the Ridder Arena, a new women’s ice hockey arena on the University’s Minneapolis campus, for the girls’ tournament. The Ridder Arena’s seating capacity is below the 4,000-seat capacity requested in the proposals.
The league’s decision to accept the bid of the Ridder Arena for the girls’ tournament prompted the motion for preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs, a group of female high school ice hockey players and their parents, argued that the League’s refusal to schedule the tournament at the Xcel center violated Title IX and the Minnesota equivalent.
The court pointed out that to comply with Title IX, boys’ and girls’ athletics do not require equal treatment and accommodation but only substantially equal and comparable facilities. However, the contesting parties disagree about the level of equivalency of the two arenas in this case. The plaintiffs maintain that the Ridder Arena is, “slightly more desirable than playing in an outdoor ice rink,” and that, overall, the facility is substandard. The League argues that the Ridder Arena is a new, “state-of-the- art facility,” built for one of the most competitive collegiate woman’s ice hockey teams in the country. In addition, the League points out that the Ridder Arena was designed with the girls’ tournament in mind. Both parties agree that when the girls’ tournament was held at the Ridder Arena in February 2003, it was a success.
Although the court sided with the defendant in this case, it urged both parties to keep records at the tournaments this year to determine whether the Plaintiffs were correct about the impact the lack of seating capacity would have. Additionally, the court does anticipate that as girls’ hockey gains in popularity in Minnesota, the differences in seating capacity will become more of an issue and may lead to illegal discrimination sooner rather than later. Mason et al. v. Minnesota State High School League, Civil File No. 03-6462 (PAM/RLE)
D. of Mn., 12/30/03
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Kathleen Anne Marron, Robert J Gilbertson, Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, Mpls, MN. (for defendant) Lewis A Remele, Jr, Mark R Whitmore, Carrie L Hund, Bassford Remele, Mpls, MN.


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