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High school basketball team’s hair-length policy is discriminatory

February 24, 2014

A dispute pitting long hair against an attempt to promote a clean-cut image of Hoosier boys’ basketball is headed for overtime since the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found a high school’s hair-length requirements pertaining only to male basketball players violated equal protection and Title IX.

Patrick and Melissa Hayden challenged the short-hair policy of the Greensburg public high school that members of the boys’ basketball team must keep their locks cut above the ears, eyebrows and collars. The team coach, Stacy Meyer, set the policy to promote team unity and project a clean-cut image.

The Haydens filed a lawsuit against the school system when their son, A.H. was prohibited from practicing with the team because his hair was longer than permitted. They argued the short-hair mandate constitutes sex discrimination because it applies to boys and not girls.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, rejected the parents’ equal protection and Title IX claims on the grounds that the short-hair requirement does not apply to all boys’ teams.

Although the policy was not universally applied, the 7th Circuit found that it was still based on gender. The hair-length rule applied only to male athletes even though female athletes had the same need to keep their hair from their eyes and promote team unity. The 7th Circuit found the obvious disparity of the policy gave rise to an inference of discrimination.

The 7th Circuit reversed the judgments in favor of the Greensburg School Corp. on the equal protection and Title IX claims in Patrick Hayden and Melissa Hayden, on behalf of their minor child, A.H. v. Greensburg Community School Corp., et al., 13-1757.

“It is also worth reiterating that Coach Meyer’s policy prohibits far more than an Age-of-Aquarius, Tiny-Tim, hair-crawling-past-the-shoulders sort of hair style – it compels all male basketball players to wear genuinely short hair,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the majority. “In 2014, it is not obvious that any and all hair worn over the ears, collar, or eyebrows would be out of the mainstream among males in the Greensburg community at large, among the student body, or among school athletes. (Even one or two men on this court might find themselves in trouble with Coach Meyer for hair over the ears.)”

Judge Daniel Manion dissented, in part. He noted while he agreed with the court’s general summary of the law of equal protection, the record did not establish any violation of the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX.
 

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