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A firm team is seeking to revive its lawsuit that aims to compel the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to create a separate division to accommodate para-ambulatory athletes.
Since 2010, the firm has represented Evanston High School senior student-athlete Aaron Holzmueller on a pro bono basis. Aaron, who has cerebral palsy, asked IHSA to establish a separate division and qualifying times for certain races in its track program for para-ambulatory athletes. He also asked IHSA to create a para-ambulatory division for the Road Race, a 5-K race open to high school students across Illinois.
IHSA’s executive director denied his requests in October 2015. A team led by Partner Louis E. Fogel assisted Aaron’s family in its administrative appeal of the denial, but the IHSA board affirmed the decision two months later. The team filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief to permit Aaron to have a chance to compete.
In September 2017, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of IHSA. Aaron. appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. With Mr. Fogel’s assistance, Jenner & Block lawyer Devi M. Rao, then an associate and today a partner, argued the case in November 2017. In early February 2018, a Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the District Court’s decision.
While the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, the panel was ultimately divided. Judge Ilana Rovner dissented, explaining, “Allowing disabled athletes to compete in a separate division would no more undermine the competitive nature of the track-and-field program than does the current practice of allowing wheelchair athletes and male and female athletes to compete in separate divisions.”
Mr. Fogel and the team have petitioned the Seventh Circuit for en banc rehearing, and that petition is currently pending.
To learn more about the case, please visit The Heart of the Matter annual pro bono report.