Girls’ football star Sam Gordon’s lawsuit will finally bring changes to some Utah schools

Schools aren’t required to add tackle football programs, but the settlement will create other policy changes for girls sports in three districts.

(Isaac Hale | Special to The Tribune) Utah Valley’s Mae Huish (22) runs toward her team’s bench as she and the rest of the Utah Valley Valkyrie celebrate their win over the West Jordan Lightning in the first game of the Utah Girls Tackle Football League Championships held at Herriman High School on May 27, 2021.

Canyons, Jordan and Granite school districts have reached a settlement in a lawsuit that aimed to get girls’ tackle football sanctioned by Utah high schools.

The settlement, which became official Friday, puts an end to a suit filed in 2017 when girls’ football phenom Sam Gordon and five other girls first sued the districts and the Utah High School Activities Association alleging discrimination for not providing sanctioned girls’ tackle football teams.

“Broadly speaking, the settlement agreement represents the parties’ efforts to advance the goals of Title IX by increasing opportunities for girls to participate in sports and by increasing participation by girls in sports,” the districts said in a joint statement provided to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The terms of the settlement call for several policy changes and actions:

• Creating a district Title IX athletic coordinator to field questions and complaints regarding compliance with the law.

• Making sure each junior high and high school in Canyons, Jordan and Granite districts has a liaison to handle emerging sports.

• Conducting a survey in each district by the 2025-26 school year, asking students about their level of interest in sports. Four-year high schools need to conduct this survey at least every four years, and three-year high schools must do it at least every three.

• Students interested in girls’ sports — including girls’ tackle football — may apply to become a student-led club sport at schools in the three districts and be able to promote and advertise its activities and request the use of school facilities.

• Each district will work to promote girls’ sports at the elementary, middle, junior and high school levels. Some examples include holding registration events; including information about the sports in newsletters, emails, school newspapers, etc.; and including girls’ club sports and emerging sports on school websites.

For elementary schools, promotion includes displaying posters of women’s sports heroes in prominent locations, and telling physical education teachers to encourage students, especially girls, to participate in sports either in or out of school. Twice a year, districts will promote girls’ tackle football to elementary school students through various media.

“It’s all parties’ hope that the appointment of the Title IX Athletic Coordinators and the School Sports Liaisons, along with the other terms of the settlement agreement, will serve to advance equality and opportunity within the districts’ athletic programs,” according to the joint statement.

The 2015 lawsuit alleged the districts had violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The case eventually went to a bench trial in 2020, and the judge ruled in favor of the districts and UHSAA in March 2021.

Lawyers for Gordon appealed the case to the Tenth Circuit, which sent the case back to the district court for further review after ruling the district court “applied the wrong standard when deciding the question of class certification.”

Brent Gordon, Sam Gordon’s father and one of the lawyers on the case, said in February that he’d “love to settle the case instead of more litigation.”

The Utah High Schools Activities Association was also part of the lawsuit but was not included in the settlement.