Plaintiffs Seeking Equal Venue Survive Summary Judgment Motion

Sep 1, 2004

A federal judge has denied a motion for summary judgment brought by the Minnesota State High School League against a group of parents, who are seeking to force the association to secure a venue for the state high school girl’s hockey tournament that is more comparable to where the boys play their tournament.
Another federal judge in the District of Minnesota had denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on December 30, 2003, a decision that was summarized in SLA 1-2.
In the latest opinion, the judge wrote that “a factual question exists as to whether the impact is similar. Plaintiffs’ argument relies on subtle inferences that are more appropriately evaluated at trial than on a motion for summary judgment.”
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 plaintiffs, a group of female high school ice hockey players and their parents, argued in a motion for preliminary injunction that the League’s refusal to schedule the tournament at the Xcel center violated Title IX and the Minnesota equivalent. The court disagreed, but ruled only on the injunction as it related to the 2004 tournament, taking time issues into consideration. The plaintiffs then sought a permanent injunction for subsequent years. In response, the defendants moved for summary judgment.
In its analysis, the court wrote that the plaintiffs have successfully raised “questions as to whether the League treats the girls’ ice hockey team in a manner ‘substantially equal’ to that of the boys’ team. Construing the facts in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, which the Court must do for purposes of this motion, defendant has not shown that the gender classification is ‘exceedingly persuasive,’ that the arenas are ‘equal or equal in effect,’ and that the ‘overall effect’ of this difference is negligible.”
The court turned to Communities for Equity v. Michigan High School Athletic Ass’n, 178 F. Supp. 2d 805 (W.D. Mich. 2001), where another federal judge determined that “the Association’s decision to schedule some girls’ sports in off-seasons was impermissible under the Fourteenth Amendment, Title IX, and Michigan law. The Association claimed that its scheduling scheme maximized opportunities for both genders by increasing the pool of available coaches and minimizing logistical problems (such as scheduling). The court recognized those objectives as important, but noted that only girls’ sports were scheduled in off-seasons and held that such discriminatory scheduling is not ‘substantially related’ to the achievement of those asserted objectives.” Id. at 850-51. The court found a violation of Title IX because the scheduling scheme affected the girls’ availability and access to recruiters, denying girls benefits that boys’ teams enjoyed. Id. at 822-23. The court emphasized that gender classifications may not be based on “overbroad generalizations about the talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.” Id. at 848.
Specific to the instant case, the court noted that the “Plaintiffs have established a material fact dispute as to whether differences in seating, locker rooms, scoreboards, and variety of available concessions make Ridder impermissibly inferior to Xcel as a state hockey tournament venue. The parties do not dispute that Xcel, with its full-color scoreboard, private locker room facilities, and closed-circuit televisions, is more lavish than Ridder. Defendant, however, points out that Ridder offers benefits to the girls’ team that are not available to the boys at Xcel, such as use of weight room and training room facilities and equipment. Ultimately, the question whether these differences constitute illegal gender discrimination is one for a factfinder.” Mason et al. v. Minnesota State High School League, D. of Mn., Civil File No. 03-6462 (JRT/FLN), 7/15/04
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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