Mr. Martinez took his case to the 5th Circuit based on his belief that his son had been treated unfairly. The 5th Circuit held that he was not treated unfairly, but even if he was, that was OK.
This was about a student’s mid-year transfer from New Deal High School to Lubbock Cooper. The folks at New Deal thought this smacked of a transfer for athletic purposes, and so reported it to the UIL. The UIL’s committee agreed, and the boy was declared ineligible for one year.
The dad sued on his son’s behalf. Originally, he sued New Deal, the UIL and its executive director. The lower court dismissed the UIL and its director, leaving New Deal as the only defendant when the dad took it to the 5th Circuit.
The basis of the suit was the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution. The dad pointed out that there were two other boys who transferred from New Deal into Lubbock Cooper at about the same time, and they were allowed to play. What’s with that? New Deal had reported N.M. as an “athletic transfer” but not the other two boys.
Equal Protection cases usually involve differential treatment based on broad classifications: sex, race, national origin, religion. However, the courts also recognize what is known as the “class of one” Equal Protection theory. In this theory, you just have to prove that one individual was treated differently than others who were similarly situated, and that there was no rational basis for it.
That may sound easy, but it’s not. And in this case, the plaintiff failed both tests. The dad compared his son to the other two boys, but the court held that they were not “similarly situated.” Timing turned out to be important. The other two boys transferred during the summer between freshman and sophomore years. N.M., however, transferred in mid-year. Moreover, one of the other boys transferred to Cooper when his family moved into the district. N.M. lived in LCISD all along. He had, in fact, been a transfer student at New Deal. Thus New Deal had a reason to complain of N.M.’s transfer, while leaving the other two alone.
On top of that, the court held that New Deal had a “rational basis” for the differential treatment. The court noted that the PAPF form (Previous Athletic Participation Form) that triggered all this asked this question:
Based on your knowledge of the student and their circumstances, is this student changing schools for athletic purposes?
The court noted that this question requires “discretionary decision making based on a vast array of subjective, individualized assessments.” In cases like that “treating like individuals differently is an accepted consequence of the discretion granted.”
In other words: life is not fair. Get over it.
The case is Martinez v. New Deal ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit on February 3, 2020. It’s “unpublished” in the official legal reports, but we found it at 2020 WL 536253.
DAWG BONE: “THEORY OF ONE” CLAIMS DO NOT GUARANTEE FAIR TREATMENT.
Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!