HONOLULU (KHON2) — It is round two, for a group of female athletes from a high school in Ewa Beach. The student athletes are one step closer to getting equal rights for their school’s athletic programs.

On April 4, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the female group of student-athletes’ class action status in support of their Title IX civil rights lawsuit against the Hawai’i Department of Education and the O’ahu Interscholastic Association.

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The court’s three-judge panel acknowledged the girl’s efforts for equal rights under Title IX and believe the district court made a mistake in denying the girls’ class action. The court said the girls’ claim for class-wide retaliation could proceed because of the chilling effect of retaliatory actions throughout the high school.

The lawsuit was filed in 2018, by four girls for all present and future female athletes attending James Campbell High School, after receiving a threat that one of their programs was going to be canceled after girls and parents raised concerns about gender-based athletic inequities.

“We expect our school will finally treat girls fairly based on the court’s ruling. We’re relieved that the judges ruled in our favor and that girls who play sports are now one giant step closer to having equality in our school sports program when it comes to treatment, opportunities, and benefits,” said A.M.B., one of the four female athletes representing the hundreds of girls at Campbell High School.

According to the lawsuit, the girls faced discrimination as far as not having an athletic locker room, while boys had one, inferior practice and game facilities, absence of coaches, unequal access to athletic trainers, and less publicity or promotion for the girls teams.

The four female athletes played sports ranging from water polo to swimming to soccer at James Campbell High School, one of the largest public high schools in Hawaii.

The road to equal rights for all female athletes at James Campbell High School was a bumpy one, with the first hurdle in 2019, after the federal district court denied the girls’ class-action status.

Although the girls’ class-action status was denied, their attorneys did not give up. The girls’ attorneys from Legal Aid At Work and Simpson Thacher, along with a nonprofit called ACLU of Hawai’i, helped the girls appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — a federal court that covers Hawaii.

Title IX, which is named after one of the co-authors of this bill, former Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink has helped many programs in high school and college sports programs create opportunities for women to play sports and to be treated fairly.

“Mink worked tirelessly for education reform during her political career and overcame gender and racial discrimination to become the first woman from Hawaiʻi and first woman of color elected to Congress,” said Wookie Kim, legal director of the ACLU of Hawai’i. “But it shouldn’t take nearly half a century for schools like Campbell to address obvious inequities such as the absence of locker rooms for girls, and fewer athletic opportunities for girls.”

Kim said the girls and their support groups look forward to this ruling spurring immediate action at Campbell High School. He also would like to see immeidate action taken within the Hawaiʻi Department of Education and the O‘ahu Interscholastic Association.

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The principal at James Campbell High School and the Department of Education has been reached, no response has been given at this time.