Court overturns win for transgender Minnesota powerlifter in discrimination case

Court overturns win for transgender Minnesota powerlifter in discrimination case

Court overturns win for transgender Minnesota powerlifter in discrimination case

USA Powerlifting (USAPL) has won its appeal of a ruling that sided with a transgender Minnesotan who claimed the organization discriminated against her.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the initial win for JayCee Cooper on Monday, sending the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

Cooper’s lawyers sued USA Powerlifting in 2021 after the organization denied her request to compete in the women’s division because she’s transgender and would have an unfair advantage.

In February 2023, a Ramsey County court granted some of Cooper’s motions for summary judgment, agreeing that USAPL discriminated against Cooper based on sexual orientation and sex. The court also ordered USAPL to stop discriminating and submit a policy to allow transgender athletes to compete in accordance with state law.

Two months later, the organization said it would allow transgender women to compete if they declared their gender as female but the court said that still didn’t comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act and barred USAPL from holding any events in the state until it complied with the law.

On Monday, the appellate court ruled that it found “genuine issues of material fact as to whether defendant excluded plaintiff from the women’s division of its weightlifting competitions because of her transgender status” and overturned the prior ruling.

The judges’ opinion states that USAPL argued it denied Cooper because she went through puberty as a male and, therefore, would have a strength advantage over cisgender women who didn’t have the same exposure to testosterone. Because its evidence and expert reports supported that argument, the justices determined the organization showed it didn’t discriminate against Cooper based on her transgender status. They also said the district court shouldn’t have issued an injunction that barred USAPL from holding events or selling memberships in Minnesota.

An attorney representing USAPL praised the court’s ruling and maintained the organization “did not exclude JayCee Cooper because of her gender identity” but rather “because of her physiology.”

“Maintaining separate categories based on sex, age, and weight is necessary so that similarly situated athletes have fair opportunities of success,” the attorney said in a statement. “Scientific studies show that athletes who have gone through male puberty enjoy a large strength advantage over athletes who go through puberty as a female. The scientific studies also show that suppressing testosterone only reduces the strength advantage by a very minimal amount. Because powerlifting is a strength sport, the strength differences between competitors are significant. Excluding male to female transgender powerlifters from the women’s division is necessary to maintain fairness and integrity in the sport.”

One of the judges, Jennifer Frisch, wrote a dissenting opinion that the court should’ve sided with Cooper on one of her arguments because USAPL admitted it revoked her eligibility based on her transgender status. In her opinion, she wrote that the organization’s claimed unfair advantage “is a policy decision for the legislature, not the courts,” and that the law doesn’t currently provide for such a defense to the discrimination claim.

“The Court of Appeals affirmed that it is illegal to discriminate against transgender people in sports, but sent the case back down for trial to determine whether that is what happened here,” Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice, said. “We believe that it is crystal clear that JayCee Cooper experienced exactly this kind of discrimination, and we are confident that the courts will ultimately agree.

“We remain committed to vindicating Ms. Cooper’s rights and advocating for a future where everyone, regardless of gender identity, has equal access to a full range of opportunities in sports and every life pursuit. Our fight continues for fairness, equality, and the basic human rights of transgender people in Minnesota and beyond.”