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Snowboarders Cry Foul but Lose Equal Protection Lawsuit

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 19, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In what has got to be this years' most finicky, hair-splitting case, the Tenth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit by a group of snowboarders who claimed equal protection violations by the U.S. Forest Service whose special-use permit excluded snowboarders but allowed skiers.

In the opinion of U.S. Judge Dee Benson, "the equal protection clause is not a general fairness law that allows anyone who feels discriminated against to bring an action in federal court."

Snowboarders vs. Skiers

The controversy began when four snowboarders and a civil rights group sued Alta Ski area and the U.S. Forest Service of violating equal protection laws by giving skiers exclusive rights of access to particular areas of mountaintop.

Jonathan Schofield, an attorney for the boarders, claimed that the ban was only ostensibly about equipment and was in fact a clothed campaign to keep a "group of undesirable people" -- snowboarders -- off of the mountain. The legal team claimed that the equipment ban was nothing more than a pretext and that there was no rational basis for the rule.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

However, the argument was not availing to the ears of the Tenth Circuit. The court was convinced by the argument of Frederick Thaler, who argued for Alta. Thaler said that the ban was about equipment, not about the people who used the equipment.

He clarified this point by suggesting a scenario: a person shows up at the resort with a snowboard and is turned away only to be accepted when he shows up later with a pair of skis. Thus, equipment is the target of the ban. In his words, the snowboarders were "trying to put a square peg in a round hole."

Snowboarding vs. Snowboarders

Lawyers for the snowboarders weren't about to go down without a fight, though. Schofield essentially tried his "oh, yeah" last ditch call and reminded the court of the signs on Alta's property: "They don't say 'no snowboarding'" he said, "They say 'no snowboarders.'"

Somebody give that man a ribbon for splitting-hairs.

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