Montana AG Knudsen signs onto lawsuit challenging federal stance on transgender athletes

By: - September 1, 2021 5:24 am

The Montana Attorney General signed onto a lawsuit alleging a misinterpretation of Title IX by the U.S. Department of Education and identifying the state’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” — which bans transgender women athletes from K-16 women’s athletics — as facing a threat of inappropriate enforcement by the federal agency.

In the case filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tennessee, 20 state plaintiffs are taking on the DOE, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit alleges the DOE and EEOC under a Biden directive issued interpretations of federal anti-discrimination law “far beyond” what aligns with judicial precedent or the Constitution permits “in their rush to overreach.”

Attorney General Austin Knudsen was among the attorneys general who signed onto the complaint. The plaintiffs allege the Department of Education “interpreted a prohibition on discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ in Title IX of the Education Amendments … to encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, notwithstanding that Title IX expressly permits sex separation on the basis of biological sex.”

The lawsuit said the Department compounded its erroneous interpretation by issuing a fact sheet “that similarly disregards Title IX’s plain text.”

Educational institutions that receive federal money must comply with Title IX or risk the loss of dollars. According to the complaint, Knudsen and other attorneys general don’t want their states to “lose significant federal funds” because the DOE and EEOC misinterpreted the law and federal guidelines clash with state laws.

“The Interpretation, fact sheet, and EEOC document interfere with Plaintiffs’ sovereign authority to enforce and administer their laws and to carry out important government functions,” the lawsuit said.

In the 2021 legislative session in Montana, lawmakers passed and Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Rep. John Fuller’s House Bill 112, the Save Women’s Sports Act, into law. 

In the case filed Monday, the Republican plaintiffs ask for a number of judgments, including that “Title IX does not prohibit plaintiffs and Title IX recipients located therein from maintaining athletic teams separated by biological sex or from assigning an individual to a team based on the individual’s biological sex.”

The plaintiffs also want the court to find that states and Title IX recipients can “continue to separate students by biological sex in appropriate circumstances,” including locker rooms and bathrooms, and that Title IX doesn’t require a recipient’s employees or students to “use a transgender individual’s preferred pronouns,” among other demands.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”