This past week the Ramsey County District Court for the State of Minnesota ruled that USA Powerlifting (USAPL) discriminated against trans powerlifter JayCee Cooper when they prohibited her from competing in the organizations women’s division.
Cooper’s legal battle with the USAPL began in 2019 shortly before the Minnesota Women’s State Championship, when Cooper received notice from the USAPL that she would be ineligible to compete in the women’s division because she is trans. Cooper subsequently filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights against the USAPL and Powerlifting Minnesota (a branch of the USAPL for the state of Minnesota) stating three counts:
- A claim of sex and sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) against the USAPL and Powerlifting Minnesota;
- A claim of sex and sexual orientation discrimination in business under the MHRA against the USAPL and Powerlifting Minnesota; and
- A claim against Powerlifting Minnesota of aiding and abetting sex and sexual orientation discrimination under the MHRA.
In last week’s ruling, the court granted Cooper’s motion for summary judgment with respect to counts 1 and 2 of the complaint, but granted the USAPL’s motion for summary judgment with respect to count 3 of the complaint. The court further ordered that the USAPL must “cease and desist from all unfair discriminatory practices in public accommodation because of sexual orientation” and must “submit a revised policy that will comply with the requirements of the [MHRA] relating to sexual orientation.”
The basis for Cooper’s claims is the fact that the USAPL’s “Transgender Participation Policy” explicitly banned trans athletes from competing against natural born men and women. The USAPL policy stated that “USA Powerlifting is not a fit for every athlete and for every medical condition or situation…simply put, not all powerlifters are eligible to compete in USA Powerlifting.” The policy further illustrated that the organization’s primary concern and reasoning for prohibiting trans athletes from competing has to do with “the use of testosterone or other androgens, commonly used to assist in transition.” The USAPL’s policy makes it clear that such compounds “are not allowed…nor is a Therapeutic Use Exemption ever granted for such use by anyone.” The policy further stated that significant advantages are experienced by male to female competitors, such as body and muscle mass, bone density, and connective tissue, and that these “advantages are not eliminated by reduction of androgens such as testosterone.”
The court ultimately found for Cooper in this case due to a lack of compliance by the USAPL with the MHRA. Under the MHRA, places of public accommodations and business cannot deny full and equal participation to people based on their sex or sexual orientation. The court stated bluntly that “performance advantage is not a reason recognized under the MHRA to discriminate because of sexual orientation or sex.” The court did, however, note an exception under the MHRA for such a restriction as the one the USAPL has in place “if the restriction is necessary to preserve the unique character of the team, program, or event” and if “it would not substantially reduce comparable athletic opportunities for the other sex.” Thus, the court found it inappropriate to grant summary judgment on this issue at this time.
The USAPL’s president, Larry Maile, made it clear that he and the organization disagree with the decision. Maile publicly denounced the decision following its announcement, and stated that the USAPL’s position has always “been aimed at balancing the needs of cis- and transgender women, whose capacities differ significantly in purely strength sports.” Maile further stated that the USAPL is considering all of their options at this time, including appeal, on combatting this decision.
Regardless of one’s stance on the inclusion of trans athletes in athletics, decisions such as this make it clear that sporting bodies across the globe will need to carefully craft their respective policies regarding the participation of transgender individuals.