Pa. decision allows girl to wrestle on boys' team

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A middle-school girl who was barred from joining a scholastic boys' wrestling team has won a preliminary injunction against her Harrisburg-area school district in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania sided with the girl, 12, and her parents, finding they had made the case that she would suffer irreparable harm by missing out on athletic development if she is kept off the team since there are no other reasonable options for her.

In the case, A.B. v. Line Mountain School District, Judge Brann decided the harms claimed by the school district were outweighed by those the student argued she would suffer.

And as a result, the 12-year-old, Audrianna Beattie, continues to wrestle at Mountain Line.

After it became clear to her parents, Brian and Angie Beattie, that their daughter wouldn't be able to continue wrestling when she left the youth team in the sixth grade, they filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and sought legal help from the Women's Law Project.

The family was represented by Terry Fromson of the Women's Law Project and Abbe Fletman of Flaster Greenberg.

They made a claim under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, requiring the school district to prove that its classification based on gender is substantially related to a government interest.

One of the school district's main justifications was that a safe school environment is in the government's interest.

"A policy preventing girls from wrestling, however, is not substantially related to that interest," Judge Brann said. He cited an opinion from the District of Nebraska in 1988, Saint v. Nebraska School Activities Association, that decided a similar case.

The district didn't support its argument with any evidence that the girl would be at a heightened risk of injury "aside from generalized assumptions about the biological differences between male and female physical strength," Judge Brann said.

The district's next justification was that a co-ed wrestling team could allow for inappropriate physical contact between the sexes, arguing that girls are "at a pronounced risk of sexual contact and harassment when they wrestle," according to the opinion.

The school offered no evidence that this has been a problem, the judge said.

"The school district does not forbid boys from wrestling on this basis, although they are also exposed to the potential for inappropriate contact," he noted.

Judge Brann concluded that the Beatties were likely to succeed on the merits of their equal protection claim.

Saranac Hale Spencer: sspencer@alm.com or 215-557-2449. Read more stories like this at www.legalintelligencer.com.


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