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D.N. v. DeSantis

Description:  A legal challenge to Florida’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act that, if successful, could jeopardize the safety and athletic opportunities of female athletes by forcing them to compete against males who identify as female.

Tuesday, Nov 7, 2023

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A federal district court ruled Monday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a state law that protects safety and fairness in women’s sports. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, representing a former female college athlete, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in April urging the court to uphold Florida’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which it did.

Florida passed the law in 2021 to protect equal opportunities for women in sports. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida found that the state law treats men and women equally based on their biological differences and does not violate Title IX or the U.S. Constitution.

“The court was right to uphold Florida’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. States like Florida have an interest in protecting women and girls as men continue to take medals, podium spots, and other opportunities away from women in female sports,” said ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer. “Biological differences matter. As more women lose opportunities to men with natural physical advantages, lawmakers are acting to preserve equal opportunities and common sense. If men are allowed to compete in women’s sports, women will continue to face discrimination that Title IX prohibits.”

“In our case, [Florida’s women’s sports bill’s] gender-based classifications are rooted in real differences between the sexes—not stereotypes,” the court wrote in its decision in D.N. v. DeSantis. “In requiring schools to designate sports-team memberships on the basis of biological sex, the statute adopts the uncontroversial proposition that most men and women do have different (and innate) physical attributes. Ignoring those real differences would disserve the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause, which is to safeguard the principle that ‘all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.’”

ADF attorneys filed the friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Selina Soule, a former track runner who now resides in Florida. The brief noted that Florida’s law does not target any specific class but promotes equal athletic opportunities.

“The Act classifies based on biology, not identity. Full stop. So biological females may compete on women’s sports teams; biological males may not. All persons of the same sex are treated the same, no matter their gender identity,” the brief explained.

“I was forced to compete against two biological males in track and field in Connecticut. I want to ensure no other girl experiences the emotional pain and lost opportunities I experienced in high school. As the court affirmed in this case, there are clear biological differences between men and women,” said Soule.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit in Connecticut that began when Soule was in high school, ADF attorneys represent her and three other female athletes forced to compete against males at the high-school level. Since the Connecticut lawsuit was filed, 23 states have passed laws protecting safety and fairness in women’s sports, including Florida. ADF attorneys represent other female athletes who are seeking to protect state laws in West Virginia and Idaho.

The court’s decision Monday included an opportunity for the plaintiff to update the complaint to challenge the law again.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Christiana Kiefer

Christiana Kiefer serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Since joining ADF in 2012, Kiefer has worked to protect women's and girls' sports and has defended the bodily privacy rights of students. She has also worked to protect the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries to exercise their faith without government interference. Kiefer earned her J.D. in 2010 from Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, where she graduated first in her class and served as a teaching assistant in criminal law. Also in 2010, Kiefer completed the ADF leadership development program to become a Blackstone Fellow. She is admitted to the state bar of California, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous federal district and appellate courts.