Discrimination lawsuit brought by transgender athlete sent back to Minnesota trial court

Mar 18, 2024, 5:01 PM

A Minnesota appeals court has sent the lawsuit brought by a transgender athlete back to a trial court to determine whether she was illegally denied entry into women’s competitions because of her gender identity.

JayCee Cooper, a transgender woman, sued USA Powerlifting in 2021 after the organization denied her 2018 request for participation. She alleged the organization violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, an anti-discrimination law which includes gender identity.

Last year, a district court judge found that USA Powerlifting had discriminated against Cooper. USA Powerlifting appealed, and Cooper cross-appealed. In its lengthy Monday decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, reversed and sent back parts of the case.

Judge Matthew Johnson wrote: “The circumstantial evidence on which Cooper relies, when viewed in a light most favorable to her, is sufficient to allow a fact-finder to draw inferences and thereby find that USAPL excluded Cooper from its competitions because of her sexual orientation (i.e., transgender status).”

Gender Justice Legal Director Jess Braverman, an attorney for Cooper, said, “We agree that it’s illegal to discriminate against transgender people in Minnesota, but we think it’s crystal clear that that’s what USA Powerlifting did in this case, so we don’t agree with the court’s ultimate conclusion that the case needs to go back for a trial, and we’re currently weighing all of our options.”

Cooper could ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision, or go back to the lower court to keep litigating the case, Braverman said.

Ansis Viksnins, USA Powerlifting’s lead attorney, welcomed the decision as having “corrected some of the mistakes” made by the lower court and has given their side an opportunity “to tell our side of the story” to a jury.

“USA Powerlifting did not exclude Ms. Cooper because of her gender identity,” Viksnins said. “USA Powerlifting excluded her from competing in the women’s division because of her physiology. She was born biologically male and went through puberty as a male, and as a result, she has significant strength advantages over other people who would be competing in the women’s division.”

Cooper asked USA Powerlifting for a “therapeutic-use exemption” to take spironolactone, a medicine prescribed to treat her gender dysphoria, “but JayCee was denied because she’s transgender,” Braverman said.

She filed a complaint in 2019 with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but withdrew it before reaching a decision. The department filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit in support of Cooper, Braverman said.

In schools and private clubs across the country, transgender people’s participation in sports has become a contentious issue. Many Republican-led states have banned transgender people from participating in high school and collegiate sports.

Last week, a group of college athletes, including swimmer Riley Gaines, sued the NCAA, alleging the organization violated their Title IX rights by allowing Lia Thomas, who is a transgender woman, to compete in the 2022 national championships.

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Discrimination lawsuit brought by transgender athlete sent back to Minnesota trial court