Marika Steir versus the Girl Scouts of the USA and Spar and Spindle Council

9-21-04 Marika Steir

On September 3, 2004, the First Circuit Court issued its ruling in this case ending Marika's long-standing battle to protect her right not to be subjected to discrimination by the Girl Scouts.

Marika Steir, now 18 years old, was an active member of Troop 467 of the Girl Scouts from 1994 to 1999. Marika is a delightful young woman who is well liked by her teachers and classmates at the public school she attends. She uses a wheelchair for mobility and a Dynavox and modified American Sign Language to communicate.

In its decision, the court upheld the district court’s dismissal of her Americans With Disabilities Act claim, finding that because Marika had left scouting she could not pursue her claim under the ADA. Further, the court ruled that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to have denied Marika’s Motion to Amend her complaint after the close of discovery. The court found that the Girl Scouts’ answers to discovery questions were “at best artful, at worst calculated to deceive,”. They also found that Marika’s former attorneys in the district court (a private NH firm) had failed to fully investigate the Girl Scouts’ claim that they did not receive federal financial assistance. Because of this, the First Circuit agreed with the lower court that Marika could not amend her complaint after the discovery phase was over.

The complaints against the Girl Scouts involved numerous acts of discrimination. Troop meetings were held at locations that were not accessible. Field trips and outings were taken to inaccessible locations. Activities were arranged in such a way that Marika could not meaningfully participate. When she attempted to join another troop, the troop leader refused to let her sign up and stated that she “wouldn’t be comfortable having a child with a disability in my group.” Marika and her mother report that representatives of the Girl Scouts were notified of the discriminatory activity and took no significant remedial action.

Despite the disappointing nature of the court’s decision, Marika and her family continue to feel that it was a worthwhile endeavor and they hope that some day the Girl Scouts will voluntarily implement what they had hoped to accomplish through this litigation. They held steadfast to their principles that all children have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. This includes the right to be provided with reasonable accommodations that will allow them to fully participate in programs such as the Girl Scouts.

Through their voices, others learned about their own rights. They spoke out on behalf of not only Marika, but in support of all individuals with disabilities, and they were heard. They received an outpouring of support from friends near and far that called or sent e-mails and letters in support of their effort. They received extraordinary media attention that shone a spotlight on Girl Scout practices and policies, and highlighted the importance of making scouting accessible to all girls.

It is also the Steirs’ hope that the Girl Scouts learned something through this process and will take steps to create the requisite disability awareness training and education at the troop, council, and national levels, adopt and disseminate new and stronger policies and, implement enforcement mechanisms at the Girl Scouts Headquarters in New York City to ensure the inclusion of all girls.

As noted by the First Circuit, “if Marika was subjected to discrimination because of her disabilities … this would be sadly inconsistent with the noble goals of an organization that in its own words is dedicated to helping girls develop their full individual potential.”

 

updated July 20, 2017