April 11, 2024

Natalie Ryan Sues PDGA & DGPT for Discrimination: May 9th Update

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Natalie Ryan is suing the Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT) and the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) for excluding her from competing in the women’s tournament division due to her transgender status. The plaintiff alleges that the discrimination violates the Unruh Act. This California law prohibits businesses from discriminating based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status.

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The plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) seeks to allow her to compete in the Female Pro Open (FPO) division of the OTB Open on May 12-15, 2023. She argues that an injunction is in the public interest, as it would promote the nondiscrimination policy behind the Unruh Act and serve California’s emphasis on the equal treatment of transgender people.

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The plaintiff’s case rests on several arguments. First, she argues that DGPT and PDGA are businesses subject to the Unruh Act, citing California Supreme Court decisions interpreting the act as “business establishments” in the broadest sense reasonably possible. Second, she alleges that DGPT and PDGA’s actions were motivated by their perception of the plaintiff’s protected status, asserting that her exclusion from the tournament is based solely on her status as a transgender woman. Third, the plaintiff claims that she has suffered harm due to the defendant’s actions, including lost income from prize money and sponsorship bonuses and emotional harm such as increased gender dysphoria and mental and emotional health damage. Finally, she argues that the defendant’s conduct is responsible for the harm, as she was able to pursue her chosen career at the highest level of the sport before adopting the discriminatory policy.

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In response to the plaintiff’s motion, the PDGA argues that the plaintiff has not demonstrated irreparable harm and should be denied. The PDGA contends that Plaintiff’s delay in seeking relief and the fact that all alleged injuries can be compensated with monetary damages are reasons enough to deny the TRO. Furthermore, the PDGA argues that granting the TRO would harm other competitors in the female division by allowing someone with the competitive advantage of having gone through male puberty to compete against them.

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The PDGA also asserts that granting the TRO is not in the public interest, as it could incentivize other plaintiffs to act similarly, encourage forum shopping, and adversely impact non-party female competitors. They maintain that the eligibility policy is based on objective criteria and scientific analysis to ensure competitive fairness and considers individuals who transitioned before puberty but not those who went through male puberty.

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The PDGA argues that sports organizations must be allowed to set eligibility standards based on objective criteria. In this instance, the line was drawn based on male puberty as a relevant demarcation. Therefore, the PDGA requests that the court deny the TRO motion.

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The court must now consider the merits of the plaintiff’s motion and the PDGA’s opposition before deciding whether to grant the TRO. The case highlights the ongoing debate over the eligibility of transgender athletes in sports and the legal challenges that arise. While sports organizations argue that their policies are based on objective criteria and scientific analysis to ensure fair competition, transgender athletes argue that these policies often exclude them from participating equally. The outcome of this case will have significant implications for treating transgender athletes in sports and the legal protections available to them.

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This case is not the first of its kind. Over the years, transgender athletes have faced discrimination in various sports, with some sports organizations implementing policies that limit their participation or require them to undergo hormone therapy or surgery. These policies have been the subject of legal challenges, with courts grappling with the difficult question of balancing the need for fair competition with the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports equally.

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In 2018, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued new guidelines for the eligibility of transgender athletes, allowing transgender women to compete in women’s events without undergoing surgery, provided that their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold for at least 12 months before the competition. However, this policy has been criticized by some transgender athletes as being too restrictive and based on outdated notions of gender and biology.

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In the plaintiff’s case, she argues that the PDGA’s policy, which uses the IOC’s guidelines as a reference, is not an appropriate standard for disc golf. She claims the policy is discriminatory and violates the Unruh Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex or gender identity. The plaintiff contends that she has suffered emotional and financial harm due to the policy. She has been denied the opportunity to compete with her female peers at the highest level of her sport, resulting in lost income from prize money and sponsorship bonuses.

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The PDGA, conversely, argues that their policy is based on scientific analysis and is necessary to ensure fair competition. They contend that allowing someone with the competitive advantages of having gone through male puberty to compete against non-party female competitors would harm the integrity and competitive balance of the events. Furthermore, the PDGA asserts that their policy considers individuals who transitioned before puberty but not those who went through male puberty. The latter group is deemed to have an unfair advantage due to their larger size and greater muscle mass.

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The case raises important questions about the intersection of sports and gender identity and the extent to which sports organizations can limit the participation of transgender athletes in the name of fair competition. While the PDGA’s policy may be based on scientific analysis, it is essential to consider whether it is fair and equitable to transgender athletes who have undergone hormone therapy or surgery to align their bodies with their gender identity. In addition, the case will test the limits of the Unruh Act. It could set a precedent for how California courts interpret the law in cases involving transgender discrimination in sports.

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In conclusion, the case of Natalie Ryan suing the PDGA highlights the ongoing debate over the eligibility of transgender athletes in sports and the legal challenges that arise. While sports organizations argue that their policies are based on objective criteria and scientific analysis to ensure fair competition, transgender athletes argue that these policies often exclude them from participating equally. Therefore, the outcome of this case will have significant implications for treating transgender athletes in sports and the legal protections available to them.

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