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O’Connor v. Board of Education of School Dist.

23
United State Supreme Court
449 U.S. 1301 (1980)

Key Search Terms: Title IX, gender-based, interscholastic events, equal


opportunity, contact sport

Facts
Karen O’Connor, an 11-year-old girl, requested to tryout for the boys
basketball team at MacArthur Junior High School. As a member of an
interscholastic athletic conference, MacArthur permits sixth graders to tryout
for the seventh and eighth grade teams, as well as students of either sex to
compete on the same teams in some noncontact sports. The Conference rules
for contact sports differ, however, in that they require separate teams for boys
and girls reasoning that girls may be physically harmed if allowed to play in
contact sports with boys. Despite this rule, Karen’s father requested that
Karen be allowed to tryout for the boy’s team based on her skill level and the
fact that she had successfully been competing with boys her age for the past
four years. After the request was rejected a number of times, Karen’s Mother
and Father filed suit against the District seeking a temporary order requiring
the District allow her to tryout at the originally scheduled tryouts in addition to
permanent relief of allowing her to play in interscholastic competition based on
her making the seventh or eighth grade team.

Issue
Is it constitutional for a school board or conference to structure athletic
programs using sex as a criterion for eligibility?

Holding
The Court found no gender-based discrimination and the District to be
compliant with Title IX. The Court reasoned that though the refusal to allow
Karen to tryout for the boys’ team is solely based on the fact that she is a girl,
the District has a separate athletic programs for girls that are equal to the boys
as measured by time, money, personnel, and facilities. The Court further
reasoned that discrimination cannot be justified based solely on Karen’s
exclusion from the higher level of competition with the boys, despite the fact
that it may have been advantageous to her development and skills as a
basketball player. The Court reasoned further that the District had sufficiently
justified their reasoning in separating boys and girls in contact sports based on
the potential physical harm and had complied with Title IX in having a team for
each sex.

Summarized by: Erika Nelson