Linden v. South Dakota High School Activities Association

School’s “girls-only” dance team policy is a constitutional hustle

Cases > Equality Under the Law > Linden v. South Dakota High School Activities Association
Case Status: Active: Victory for Freddie! School suspends discriminatory girls-only dance-team rule.

Fifteen-year-old Freddie Linden of North Sioux Falls, South Dakota can now lace up his dancing shoes as part of his school’s competitive dance team. The accomplished dancer already competes nationally on private dance teams, but the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) established competitive dance as a “female-only” sport and prohibited Freddie from joining his high school team—because he is a boy. The rule is a misguided effort to comply with federal Title IX requirement that violates Freddie’s constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. Less than a month after PLF filed a federal lawsuit on Freddie’s behalf, the SDHSAA suspended its discriminatory rule for the upcoming school year, and will consider a permanent rule change in the coming months. Freddie has since made the school dance team for the upcoming school year—topping all scores at team tryouts.

Freddie Linden is a high school freshman at Dakota Valley High School in North Sioux City, South Dakota. He has been dancing since age seven, has competed with a studio dance team in South Dakota for several years, and is the only male dancer at the studio. Many studio dancers are on his school’s competitive dance team, and the studio coach is also the school coach.

But Freddie was not allowed on the school dance team because he is a boy.

In an effort to comply with its interpretation of Title IX, the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) established competitive dance as a “female-only” sport—with no corresponding “male-only” team. The only way Freddie was able to take part in competitive dance was to attend practices and competitions as team manager.

This arbitrary, backwards-looking statute violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Preventing males from dancing does nothing to remedy discrimination against females. Discrimination is not remedied by more discrimination.

In April 2018, PLF filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Freddie, arguing the “female-only” designation for competitive dance violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

This lawsuit would not have affected schools’ ability to have sex-specific sports. That is, a school may establish both girls-only and boys-only basketball teams, which ensures equal opportunity. But as with any other type of discrimination, government needs an exceedingly persuasive reason for restricting athletic opportunities to just one sex.

Less than a month later, in response to PLF’s lawsuit, the SDHSAA suspended its discriminatory rule for the upcoming school year, and will consider a permanent rule change in the coming months.

In the meantime, Freddie has since tried out for his high school’s dance team—not only making the team which will compete this fall, but earning the highest score of all who tried out.

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What’s at stake?

  • Where the government discriminates on the basis of sex, it must have an exceedingly persuasive reason for doing so.
  • The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to equal protection of the laws and not to be discriminated against based on sex.
  • The South Dakota rules violate the Equal Protection Clause because banning males from competitive dance neither remedies past discrimination against females, nor furthers any other important government objective.

Case Timeline

Linden Complaint

April 12, 2018 Download

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