Sex discrimination case in Hawaii could change high school sports

EWA BEACH, Oahu — It was rough enough when Ashley Badis and her teammates in girls’ water polo had to practice in the ocean, battling winds and waves because their high school had failed to provide them a pool.

But it was humiliating, Badis said, when she learned about female athletes on other teams lugging their gear around school all day, running to a nearby Burger King to use the bathroom, or changing clothes under the bleachers or on the bus. The boys had no such worries because they had their own locker room and facilities.


“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,” said Badis, now 21.

Badis is among the plaintiffs in a potential landmark Title IX case that alleges widespread and systemic sex discrimination against female athletes at James Campbell High School, the biggest public high school in Hawaii.

When it comes to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibited sex-based discrimination in educational settings, much of the attention has focused on opportunities for women to participate in college sports. Among high schools, parents often push administrators to offer equal opportunities. When school officials are accused in lawsuits of not doing so, districts frequently settle without cases going to trial.

The Hawaii case goes beyond questions of systematic problems of participation and unequal treatment: It accuses Campbell officials of retaliating against the girls for raising concerns by identifying the plaintiffs, who had used only their initials in the lawsuit, and by warning faculty members to speak carefully around them.

Now, in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling in July that the case can proceed as a class action, the outcome of the trial could affect generations of girls in Hawaii and act as a stress test for Title IX’s promises and responsibilities.

Several plaintiffs and their families are speaking out publicly for the first time. What makes the case especially poignant is the timing of the class certification — the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX — and the location of the dispute — the home of former U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, an architect of the measure and a revered political figure in Hawaii. Mink died in 2002.

The defendants include the Hawaii Department of Education and the Oahu Interscholastic Association, which oversees high school sports.

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