The central Pennsylvania middle school girl who waged a legal battle
against her school district seeking inclusion on the male-only wrestling team has won her fight in court.
The girl, initially identified in court papers only as “A.B.,” and later identified by her legal team as Audriana Beattie, was successful in convincing a federal judge in Harrisburg to issue an injunction against the Line Mountain School District allowing the girl to participate on Line Mountain Middle School’s wrestling team.
In the Jan. 13 memorandum, U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann determined that barring the 12-year-old from joining the school’s wrestling team would cause her irreparable harm since the budding athlete would have nowhere else to practice other than the school’s team.
In November, Brian and Angie Beattie filed suit against the school district on behalf of their young daughter, arguing that the girl, who is in seventh grade, is being unfairly denied the opportunity to wrestle on the team because of her gender.
The couple alleged the school’s policy barring girls from participating on the wrestling team violates Audriana’s rights.
The Beatties are Iowa transplants who currently reside in Herndon, Pa. They relocated to the Keystone State in the summer of 2012.
Audriana began wrestling when she was in third grade in Iowa, the record shows, and she practiced with both boys and girls while on the team in that state.
The defendant maintained that A.B. could not participate on the wrestling team because school district policy prohibits it.
Among other things, the district brought up its task of providing a safe environment for all students, saying in court papers that it, “must identify and try to foresee potential problems for students including social, mental, and moral dilemmas, especially, in this case, with regard to athletics, given the clear anatomical differences between adolescent males and females.”
The district maintained that its policy and accompanying prohibition on females wrestling on the boys team “are vital to those efforts,” court papers state.
In his judicial memorandum, Brann stated that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their equal protection claim against the defendant. “There is no dispute that the School District denies A.B. the opportunity to wrestle solely because she is a female,” Brann pointed out.
The judge went on to note that the district failed to present any evidence at this stage of the litigation that demonstrated the girl’s safety is at a greater risk because of her gender than other students, “aside from generalized assumptions about the biological differences between male and female physical strength.
“Even if these assumptions represent ‘real differences between the sexes, rather than sexual stereotypes,’ this justification fails to satisfy intermediate scrutiny because there is no evidence that the policy effectively achieves the stated objective of student safety,” Brann wrote.
The district, throughout the course of the litigation, also failed to identify a single female wrestler who had been injured by a male wrestler as a result of gender or any specific harm a female suffered while wrestling, including Audriana, Brann noted.
“The School District also agreed that boys who wrestle are at risk of injury and did not provide evidence that girls are disproportionately so,” the judge wrote.
Brann also pointed out that the district’s policy is both “underinclusive and overinclusive,” the former because boys who may be weaker than Audriana are still allowed to wrestle on the team while their safety may be “equally or more at risk than A.B. or other capable girls.”
Brann also wrote that the district failed to establish that girls are at a greater risk of sexual contact or harassment than boys, another stated justification for its athletic policy.
“The School District could not articulate any specific instances of males inappropriately touching females while participating in wrestling, and offered no examples where a female complained of this behavior,” the memorandum states.
The decision was met with praise by the plaintiffs’ legal team.
“We are very pleased that Audriana will have the opportunity to pursue her passion for wrestling on her school’s wrestling team,” Terry Fromson, a lawyer with the Women’s Law Project, said in a statement. “Aurdiana is looking forward to continuing to practice and compete with the team, something she is very good at and has been practicing for more [than] four years.”
Fromson joined fellow attorney Abbe F. Fletman, of the firm Flaster Greenberg, in filing the initial complaint.
Fletman was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Anne Matlack, director of marketing for Flaster Greenberg, said the firm would not be commenting beyond Fromson’s statement at this point in the litigation.
In his ruling, Brann said it appears likely that A.B. would succeed on the merits of her claim under the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits the use of sex as a distinction except when one is “reasonably and genuinely based on physical characteristics unique to one sex.”
The judge went on to say that A.B. would suffer irreparable harm in her development as a wrestler if the district policy were allowed to stand because she would miss opportunities to practice and compete.
“There are no available opportunities to participate in the sport that are of the same frequency and quality as those accompanying the School District’s wrestling program,” Brann wrote. “These missed opportunities would cause A.B. to fall behind in her athletic development and prevent her from competing to her fullest potential in the future, including pursuing her aspirations at the collegiate level.”
Brann had issued a temporary restraining order back on Nov. 1 requiring the school to allow Audriana to wrestle until the preliminary injunction motion was determined.