Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The party seeking to uphold a statute that classifies individuals on the basis of their gender must carry the burden of showing an 'exceedingly persuasive justification' for the classification. Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455, 461, 67 L. Ed. 2d 428, 101 S. Ct. 1195 (1981); Personal Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 273, 60 L. Ed. 2d 870, 99 S. Ct. 2282 (1979). The burden is met only by showing at least that the classification serves 'important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed' are 'substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.' Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Insurance Co., 446 U.S. 142, 150, 64 L. Ed. 2d 107, 100 S. Ct. 1540 (1980).
Nichole Force, a thirteen year old female student enrolled in the eighth grade at the Pierce City, Missouri, Junior High School, seeks an injunction which would allow her to compete for a place on the school's eighth grade football team. Her claims are relatively simple and straightforward: that defendants' refusal to accord her that opportunity is based -- and based solely -- upon the fact that she is a female rather than a male, and that a sex-based determination of that sort violates her right to the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment, and in turn 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as defendants are the Pierce City R-VI School District, which operates and administers the Pierce City Junior High School facility, the Superintendent of the School District (John A. Williams), and the Principal of the School (Raymond Dykens). In addition, the Missouri State High School Activities Association ("MSHSAA") has been permitted to intervene in the matter, upon its assertion that plaintiff's claims call into question Section 1.6 of its rules governing interscholastic competition between secondary schools in the State of Missouri. MSHSAA is an unincorporated association composed of approximately 80% of the public junior and senior high schools in Missouri, together with a number of private, parochial and state educational institutions, whose rules concerning secondary school interscholastic competition are considered binding by its members. Pierce City Junior High School is one of those members.
Was the gender-based classification where only males are permitted to compete for a place on the Pierce City Junior High School eighth grade football team constitutional?
The court found that defendants' refusal to grant Force’s request is the product of a gender-based classification. The principles which must govern in this situation are summarized in the opening passages of Section II of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Mississippi University For Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 102 S. Ct. 3331, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1090 (1982). In the said case, the court held that gender-based classifications must serve as important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. The defendants identified four "important governmental objectives" which are said to be at stake: (a) maximization of equal athletic educational opportunities for all students, regardless of gender; (b) maintenance of athletic educational programs which are as safe for participants as possible; (c) compliance with Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 and the regulations thereunder; and (d), compliance with the constitution and by-laws of MSHSAA. According to defendants, there is a "substantial relationship" between each of these objectives and a gender based classification which would prevent any female from competing with males for a place on the Pierce City Junior High School eighth grade football team. The court rejected defendants' "objectives" (c) and (d) as providing any sort of appropriate predicate for the action taken here. As regards maximizing the participation of both sexes in interscholastic athletic events, the court held that the gender based classification used by defendants does not bear a sufficiently "substantial" relationship to that objective to withstand a constitutional challenge. Finally, the court found that there is an insufficient relationship between defendants' announced goal of "safety" and a rule which automatically excludes all eighth grade females from competing with eighth grade males for a place on a football team.