A U.S. appeals court has ruled in favor of a group of female athletes at Hawaii’s largest public high school, saying their sex discrimination lawsuit may move forward as a class-action case.

The decision, handed down on Monday, reversed a Dec. 31, 2019, decision by a federal judge who said the plaintiffs had failed to satisfy one of four criteria needed to establish class certification. U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said the plaintiffs had not shown that a class size is too large to make joining individual members to the suit impractical.

In her ruling, Kobayashi also disputed a claim of retaliation, saying it wasn’t typical of claims of the proposed class but was unique to the allegations by the female water polo players.

Campbell HS girls track members practice on the field.
The lawsuit was brought by four students at Campbell High School on behalf of all present and future female athletes at the school. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals said it had concluded that the district court had “failed to give appropriate weight to the very large size of the proposed class, which well exceeded 300 persons.”

“The district court also erred in failing adequately to consider the fact that the class, as defined, included ‘future’ female student athletes at the high school,” according to the panel.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of the students by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii in late 2018 alleging gender inequities at Campbell High School on Oahu. It named the state Department of Education and the Oahu Scholastics Association as defendants.

The lawsuit, filed under the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX, said girls at the school had no locker rooms and suffered from inferior practice and game facilities, the absence of coaches and fewer athletic offerings compared to boys.

The plaintiffs also alleged retaliation by school administrators who they said had threatened to cancel the girls’ water polo program after players complained about the school’s failure to secure a practice pool.

The DOE said it could not comment on active or pending litigation. It referred questions to the Attorney General’s Office, which could not be reached late Tuesday.

The ACLU of Hawaii welcomed the appeals court decision.

“We look forward to this ruling spurring immediate action at Campbell High School and within the Hawaii Department of Education and the Oahu Interscholastic Association,” the group’s legal director Wookie Kim said in a press release.

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