Current, Former College Swimmers File Title IX Lawsuit Over NCAA’s Transgender Policy

by Riley Overend 163

March 14th, 2024 College, News

A group of 16 current and former college female athletes filed a lawsuit in Georgia on Thursday arguing that the NCAA’s transgender policy violates Title IX because it discriminates against women.

Among the plaintiffs is former Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied controversial NCAA champion Lia Thomas for 5th in the 200-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Championships hosted by Georgia Tech. She’s joined by her Wildcat teammate, Kaitlynn Wheeler, and Kentucky junior tennis player Ellie Eades.

Other plaintiffs include former Virginia Tech swimmer Reka Gyorgy, who penned a letter to the NCAA voicing her frustration after placing 17th in the 500 free prelims at the 2022 NCAA Championships. There’s also former NC State swimmer Kylee Alons, who said she changed in a storage closet to avoid being exposed to Thomas.

The lawsuit claims the NCAA violates Title IX in part because the organization’s policies “deprive women of equal access to separate showers, locker rooms, and associated restroom facilities which protect their right to bodily privacy.”

Five active swimmers at Division III Roanoke College are also featured as plaintiffs following an incident on campus last fall. A member of the men’s swimming team applied to transition to the women’s team, but ultimately opted not to make the switch after members of the women’s team held a press conference with Gaines in protest of the NCAA’s transgender eligibility policies.

“That swimmer’s withdrawal did not make the Roanoke College Swimmers whole,” the lawsuit says. “It could not, and did not, lessen the anguish they had experienced, and they live with the uncomfortable realization that should this male or another male seek to compete on the Roanoke College women’s swimming team, due to the NCAA’s Transgender Eligibility Policies, Roanoke College and the NCAA will support the male.”

The lawsuit concludes with a “Prayer for Relief” that asks to “reassign” past awards and prevent trans women from using women’s locker rooms, showers, or restrooms. It also seeks injunctive relief related to the NCAA’s transgender eligibility policies as well as damages payments for “pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, expense costs and other damages due to defendants’ wrongful conduct.”

“This lawsuit against the NCAA isn’t just about competition; it’s a fight for the very essence of women’s sports,” said Marshi Smith, a former NCAA champion swimmer at Arizona and a co-founder of the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS), which is funding the lawsuit.

The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and North Georgia are listed as defendants along with the NCAA because they are hosting championship events over the next two years. Georgia is hosting the 2025 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships, Georgia Tech is hosting the 2025 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, and North Georgia is hosting the 2026 NCAA Rowing Championships.

You can read the full 155-page lawsuit here. 

The NCAA currently requires women’s swimmers and divers to have a testosterone threshold less than 10 nmol/L, in line with International Olympic Committee (IOC) standards.

Asked last year at a Congressional hearing about Thomas swimming at the 2022 NCAA Championships, new NCAA president Charlie Baker said, “I don’t believe that policy would be the policy we would use today.” However, the former Massachusetts governor has yet to make any changes to the NCAA’s policy on transgender eligibility.

A couple months after winning the 2022 NCAA title in the 500-yard freestyle, Thomas revealed that it has been a goal of hers for a long time to compete at the Olympics. The next month, World Aquatics (then FINA) voted to prevent transgender women from competing in elite women’s categories, instead creating a separate “open” category. However, that category has been a failure so far because there are not many trans swimmers out at the elite level.

A couple months ago in January, news broke that Thomas has been mounting a legal challenge to World Aquatics’ ban on transgender women competing in elite women’s categories.

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Breh
4 months ago

I can’t believe RG is still hung up on this trophy she didn’t get, it’s actually annoying at this point. She should probably go get a real job or something… I understand why she’s upset and all but honestly she should just get a life that’s not complaining to conservative media.

Flatlander
Reply to  Breh
4 months ago

You obviously have a shallow takes on this. Riley and the other girls are really doing the selfless thing here. She’s putting other women and other women’s features ahead of her own interests. Protecting women’s rights and values is a noble endeavor.

Stewie
4 months ago

This is just full of lies lol:
“Incredibly, this unknown swimmer was ranked first in women’s

freestyle swimming events ranging from the 200 free to the mile – i.e., from the
sprints to the distance events. Even prior collegiate legends like Katie Ledecky and
Missy Franklin had not exhibited that breadth of dominance before.”

Gowdy Raines
4 months ago

Good luck ladies! It is long past time someone stood up for women’s sports and restored common sense to the process. I find it quite telling how many men are here attacking them for fighting back…

DMSWIM
4 months ago

As a lawyer, the attorneys who filed this should be embarrassed. Even if Riley has a morally valid complaint (which I don’t think she does), a lawsuit is not the proper arena for this. What compensable harm did she suffer from tying with Thomas and getting her 5th place trophy later? What harm did Alon’s suffer from choosing to change, one time, in a closet instead of out in the open due to her own feelings?
They sound like people who can’t get over their college athletic careers being over, years later. It’s time to be an adult and move on.

Towelie
Reply to  DMSWIM
4 months ago

Maybe reka gyorgy will get a pat on the back and the ncaa will go back and give Virginia tech one additional point at 2022 ncaas. They’ll go all the way from getting 23rd at the meet to getting 23rd at the meet

Ed Bradford
Reply to  DMSWIM
4 months ago

It has been inconceivable to me over the years how anyone could possibly mistake a boy for a girl. Yet, here we are with some like DMSWIM who is anonymous claiming exactly that . Y’all can also note that performance altering drugs are strictly illegal in amateur and professional sports UNLESS you “identify” as transgender. Wow!

Towelie
Reply to  Ed Bradford
4 months ago

Can you explain to me how taking testosterone blockers and estrogen is performance enhancing for a trans woman? Or are you saying that female to male trans people have an unfair advantage competing against biological males?

MaryHall
Reply to  Towelie
4 months ago

How is taking t-blockers and estrogen performance-enhancing for a transwoman? By permitting them entry to a category where they can finish several hundred places higher than they would in the equivalent male competition.

swimapologist
Reply to  MaryHall
4 months ago

Riley Gaines’ rank in the 200 free in the NCAA in the 2018-2019 season: 94th.

Lia Thomas’ rank in the NCAA in the 500 free in the 2018-2019 season while swimming with the Penn’s men’s team (she didn’t swim a tapered 200 free): 78th

So besides the fact that we can do away with the “mediocre swimmer” narrative (Lia was very-nearly an NCAA qualifier in the mile as a teenager while swimming for the men’s team), isn’t it wild how in three years swimmers get…faster?

I don’t know what advantage, if any, trans women have after three years of HRT. But I know that this “mediocre swimmer” line isn’t it.

MaryHall
Reply to  swimapologist
4 months ago

Thomas did not get faster in those three years: Thomas swam 4.18 in 500 free at 2019 Ivy League championships (see Swimswam results archive). Thomas’s 2022 time was a lot slower but still resulted in a huge boost in ranking.
Every peer-reviewed study so far (we’re up to at least 18) has confirmed that male advantage may be reduced but is nowhere near removed by testosterone suppression, even after over a decade (https://archive.is/XxONM); also, continuing to train greatly mitigates any performance loss.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  swimapologist
4 months ago

Can’t upvote this enough.

The “Thomas was a mediocre/bad swimmer” line is how you know you’re not talking to someone that’s really thought about this, aside from remembering a few false talking points you get from the people that brought this lawsuit here.

Coach
Reply to  Steve Nolan
4 months ago

Whether Thomas was great, good, average, or bad as a male is so irrelevant. She won an ncaa title as a female

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

The funny part about this comment is as written, it’s basically supporting her in her transition.

You’re also misunderstanding the bad faith arguments made by the fear mongers, which is sort of cute.

Shea Manning
Reply to  Ed Bradford
4 months ago

Ed, if it’s inconceivable you should be asking questions or doing some basic research rather than celebrating your lack of curiosity online as if you have fully challenged your line of thinking. You haven’t done that, and it’s understandable as to why folks on the other side of your perspective–many of whom HAVE put in that work–would receive your words as cruelty.

I do not understand the full scope of the transgender experience and I also wasn’t completely sold on the fairness of Lia’s performances at the 2022 NCAA Championship… but Lia was competing within the rules of the game (bumping up right against the set boundaries) and then the governing body tweaked those boundaries to better fit the… Read more »

Emerson Biguns
Reply to  DMSWIM
4 months ago

If you can’t figure out the harm incurred, maybe you can get a refund on your law degree.

Towelie
Reply to  Emerson Biguns
4 months ago

How do you suggest we assign a dollar value of the harm incurred for finishing one spot below where you would have otherwise in a competition that provides no financial compensation? If anything, Riley Gaines has financially benefited from Lia Thomas competing. She hasn’t incurred any measurable harm

Last edited 4 months ago by Towelie
DMSWIM
Reply to  Emerson Biguns
4 months ago

Emerson, I didn’t say there was no harm. There was so compensable harm. Someone being rude to me at Starbucks may cause me emotional harm, but that doesn’t mean I get to sue them. Plenty of harms occur every day, but most, including these, are not appropriate for a lawsuit. If you don’t know anything about law, maybe don’t comment on it.

Shoudawouda
4 months ago

Lia still needs an asterisk next to her name.

tea rex
4 months ago

The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and North Georgia are listed as defendants along with the NCAA because they are hosting championship events over the next two years

This is just bad lawyering (unless filing the lawsuit itself, not winning it, was the point). To have standing in a lawsuit, you need to seek redress for an actual harm. The plaintiffs can’t hold a school liable for hosting a future championship at which 1) none of the plaintiffs are eligible to compete and 2) they speculate that a transgender woman may compete (however unlikely that is).

Unless, like I said, this is more about promoting women’s right wing media careers than promoting women’s sports.

Mk.
Reply to  tea rex
4 months ago

I agree. Riley has no standing to bring this lawsuit, along with any of the other plaintiffs. None of the elements of standing are met, and this is a moot issue. Lawsuits may not be brought for future harm unless it is imminent, and there is no legally cognizable injury which can be solved from this suit. This is simply a media and cash grab to promote Riley’s own personal agenda.

Ed Bradford
Reply to  Mk.
4 months ago

Lawsuit is against NCAA. They have suffered irreparable harm.

DMSWIM
Reply to  Ed Bradford
4 months ago

What is the legally compensable harm? No one has been able to articulate it.

Coach
4 months ago

It’s funny how most of the comments support Leah but most of the upvotes and downvotes supports the law suit. It’s almost like people are afraid to speak against what they know is wrong. Exactly how Leah got to compete in the first place.

Scott Jones
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

There’s moderation on this discussion but not in the voting, so I’m sure that affects it also.

Last edited 4 months ago by Scott Jones
ASwammerAgainstTransphobia
4 months ago

I’ve got a lot of thoughts and a massive lack of respect for Riley and every single swimmer in that lawsuit. This was disgusting to read their views. Transphobia and hate have no place in this world, nor in this sport.

A handful of transgender swimmers do not threaten women’s sports. It’s one spot out of many- sure, to that swimmer who was in 17th place, it will hurt at the time. But that’s not unique to a transgender athlete competing- that’s just the pain of being left out of finals. But if it still hurts two years later, grow up. It’s one race- we are not defined by our sports, we are not defined by titles, and nobody… Read more »

Alice
Reply to  ASwammerAgainstTransphobia
4 months ago

what the actual crap did i just read. This is not transphobic, this is about fighting for equal play and women’s rights.

Towelie
Reply to  Alice
4 months ago

There are so many better avenues to fight for women’s rights than to cement yourself in a culture war about something that is hardly an issue. As of last year there had only been 34 transgender athletes in the history of the ncaa. Only one trans woman has ever competed in the Olympics (weightlifting) and she didn’t even medal. I don’t think that anyone is completely altering their biology and opening themselves to public ridicule just so that they have an advantage in their sport. Just because one trans woman won an ncaa title in a historically slow race doesn’t mean that trans people pose a major threat to women’s rights.

If they were actually interested in protecting women’s… Read more »

Head Timer
Reply to  Towelie
4 months ago

Well said.

Coach
Reply to  Towelie
4 months ago

This is a swimming forum, we’re not here to talk about abortion. We should be interested in protecting the integrity of the sport overall. Whether one thinks its fair for Leah to compete against women is a very different conversation than reproductive rights. I strongly believe that the majority of our country is against Leah competing and for women’s reproductive rights, as we are seeing is all over the country in our elections. PLEASE keeps these issues separate.

Towelie
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

I was responding to someone saying that trans athletes competing is a women’s rights issue. I was using reproductive rights as an example of a women’s rights issue that actually impacts many women in the country. Trans women in sports impacts such a miniscule amount of the population, but it’s talked about like every women’s sport is dominated by trans athletes.

There have been over a thousand ncaa d1 women’s swimmers since Lia entered college. Among those there has been one trans woman. If you think that one trans woman, who is barred from competing in international competition, is a threat to the integrity of women’s swimming, then I think your priorities are misaligned.

Also, if you think that… Read more »

Coach
Reply to  Towelie
4 months ago

I have. The 2022 midterms were a clear indication. Banning abortions lost in KANSAS. Let me say that again, KANSAS. Not just California, Kansas. Again, this is a swimming website, and while I agree this affects a small amount of people, the people who it does affect are swimmers who frequent swimming websites.

Coach
Reply to  Towelie
4 months ago

It that this has any place being discussed here, but just some proof
https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

Coach
Reply to  ASwammerAgainstTransphobia
4 months ago

By this logic, sports should not exist at a competitive level just have recreational sports

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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