The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the law firm of Ellis and Winters LLP successfully challenged a K-8 public charter school’s dress code that required female students to wear skirts to school and prohibited them from wearing pants or shorts.
The lawsuit against Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina, was brought by three students who argued that wearing skirts restricts their movement and makes them uncomfortable in many types of weather and other school situations such as playing at recess or sitting on the floor.
The case was brought under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools that accept federal funds, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, as well as a similar provision in the North Carolina Constitution.
In 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted summary judgment for plaintiffs on their claims that CDS's skirts requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause, but granted summary judgment for defendants on plaintiffs' claims that the requirement violates Title IX. Defendants appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Plaintiffs cross-appealed.
In 2021, a panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed and held that the skirts requirement does not violate the Constitution because Defendants are not state actors, but determined that plaintiffs had proven a violation of Title IX. On rehearing by the full Fourth Circuit sitting en banc, the Court held that the defendants, as members of North Carolina's taxpayer funded and regulated public school system, are state actors when they impose the skirts requirement and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause. The en banc court remanded Plaintiffs' Title IX claim to the district court for further consideration. Defendants subsequently petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. This petition is currently pending before the Supreme Court.