Natalie Ryan is accustomed to winning, but now she can’t even compete.
The professional trans disc golfer was a Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) member and competitor in the female professional open division on the 2022 Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT) where she won two ‘Elite Series’ events and finished the tour ranked in the top ten.
“Athletes make money not only from prizes but actually they make more money through sponsors like Nike and through advertising,” said Orange County Attorney John Shu.
But then the rules changed.
“If I were Natalie Ryan’s attorney, I’d certainly want to know if the Professional Disc Golf Association was specifically targeting Natalie, even though they were trying to make a generalized rule,” Shu said.
That new rule adopted by both PDGA and DGPT requires any transgender woman to have undergone gender-affirming treatment before the age of 12 years-old to compete in the female professional open divisions of its elite events.
Ryan, however, did not have gender-affirming treatment prior to her 12th birthday. So, she sued.
“[Natalie] has now been deemed ineligible to participate in the female professional open division of DGPT events by the PDGA and DGPT,” wrote Ryan’s attorney, Brian R. Sciacca, in the Feb. 22 complaint. “Plaintiff alleges that the policy adopted by the PDGA and DGPT is arbitrary and capricious and in violation of Plaintiff’s right to be free from discrimination based on her gender.”
Ryan’s lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of California federal court alleging gender discrimination.
“None of these claims are completely out in left field,” Shu said. “The plaintiff does make a good point that California law defines woman as whoever identifies as a woman.”
Other organizations that could be impacted by the outcome of the litigation include the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) as well as any college or high school sport.
“If this plaintiff is successful, then one would have to seriously consider what the ramifications are for those organizations,” Shu told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. “It’s a delicate balance. You’re trying to balance trans people and you’re also trying to balance Title IX.”
Title IX requires equal funding of women’s collegiate sports.
In addition to the PDGA, defendants named in Ryan’s lawsuit include Disc Golf USA, and 1000 Rated Productions.
However, PDGA is headquartered in Georgia and Disc Golf USA is in Vermont.
“I think they brought it in Northern California in the Eastern District because they know the judges and juries are more liberal,” Shu said in an interview.
Only 1000 Rated Productions is based in California while Ryan is domiciled in Virginia.
As a result, Shu foresees the litigation could be transferred to another district court.
“1000 Rated Productions doesn’t make the rules,” he said. “They have nothing to do with the 12-year-old cutoff so they would have a good argument to say 1000 Rated Productions doesn’t define when it is that you have to begin taking gender transition drugs or puberty blockers and if that’s the case, then I would assume they would ask the court to be released from the lawsuit.”
Sciacca did not respond to requests for comment.
The three counts listed in Ryan’s complaint include violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, unfair competition, and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.
“When she argues that it’s unfair because these rules were sprung upon her, that’s somewhat questionable as a legal claim because associations are allowed to change their rules,” Shu added.
*Note: Complaint reflects attorney Brian R. Sciacca’s office in Laguna Beach, CA.
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.