WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut, and the Service Women's Action Network filed a lawsuit today against the Department of Defense for failing to release records under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how three military academies maintain policies that result in an underrepresentation of women in the student population.
The lawsuit aims to capture information about the admissions and recruitment policies at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), and the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, with the ultimate goal of ending the gender disparities and discrimination that women who aspire to become military officers face. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut represent the plaintiffs.
DOD has a long history of denying women opportunities to serve equally and in leadership roles. Cadets and midshipmen attend the military service academies tuition-free, graduate with a bachelor of science degree with a commission as a second lieutenant, and must serve a minimum of five years on active duty. Yet, the percentage of women at West Point has remained between 14 percent and 17 percent for over 25 years, women are less than a quarter of the Brigade of Midshipmen at USNA, and the USAFA has limited its enrollment of women cadets to at or below 23 percent since 1976, despite commissioning its graduates into a service in which over 99 percent of career fields have been open to women for two decades.
Women's underrepresentation in the academies contributes to a dearth of women officers in the U.S. armed forces. Overall, women comprise less than 17 percent of all officers in the military services, despite DOD's rescission of policies restricting military jobs for women.
"The military service academies are premier educational institutions that provide tuition-free paths to leadership and are run by the federal government - there is no excuse for the government to provide this opportunity to women at such dismally low rates," said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney in the ACLU's Women's Rights Project.
Without the presence of more women, female students continue to be targeted for mistreatment, discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence. Despite nearly 10 years of research, training, and focus on the crisis of sexual assault at military service academies, sexual assault reports at the academies have not shown a substantial change in the past five years. The academies received 70 reports of sexual assaults in the 2012-2013 academic year. According to the DOD's data, over 90 percent of the victims were women.
"Service women today are serving in unprecedented roles that are enabling the military to be a more effective fighting force," said Greg Jacob, Service Women's Action Network policy director and a former Marine Corps infantry officer. "However, service academy culture and policies are preventing the military from becoming the 21st century leader we need it to be. In order to remain relevant, the academies must increase women's accession and leadership opportunities and actively support their advancement in the force. Instead, after nearly 40 years of integration at the academies, women are represented at abysmally low rates, and a sexually hostile environment still seems to be the norm."
The ACLU, ACLU of Connecticut, and SWAN believe the data that would be obtained from the FOIA request will shed light on the admission process as well as the assignments women receive after graduation. This information would assist in identifying the problems and discrepancies preventing women from being admitted to the military service academies and thus serving in leadership positions in the military.
"The admissions systems that result in student bodies of under 25 percent women have been shrouded in a certain amount of mystery, and this lawsuit aims to throw a spotlight on the mechanisms that keep women's numbers so low," said Stephen Glassman, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.
On November 14, 2014, the plaintiffs submitted FOIA requests to USMA, USNA, and USAFA for records relating to admissions policies, rates of admission, and information regarding admissions targets or quotas for women. The FOIA request also asked for information regarding facilities for women and policies and responses to sexual harassment and assault at the military service academies.
In violation of statutory deadlines established by Congress, the USMA and USAFA have not produced any documents. The USNA has disclosed records in response to some portions of plaintiffs' request but have withheld all others and also partially denied the plaintiffs' fee waiver request.
Accordingly, the lawsuit contends that DOD failed to release the records and failed to make a reasonable effort to search for the records within the statutory deadlines.
"FOIA is a powerful tool in holding our government accountable," said Ashley Anderson, a law student intern at the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School and Service Academy graduate. "The military is obligated to recruit and train the best and brightest regardless of gender. If West Point, the Air Force Academy, and the Naval Academy believe they are fulfilling that duty, then they have nothing to hide and should release the requested data to the public."
A copy of today's filing can be found at http://servicewomen.org/military-academies/.
For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation's guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. Whether it's achieving full equality for the LGBT community, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach. With more than a million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., for the principle that every individual's rights must be protected equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin.
The ACLU of Connecticut is a nonpartisan, non-profit membership organization that defends, promotes and preserves individual rights and liberties under the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions in state and federal court, the General Assembly and the state's 169 towns and cities. The ACLUCT carries out this work from Hartford with a staff of eight full-time employees assisted by interns, volunteers, cooperating attorneys, an active Board of Directors, six regional chapters and five college and law school chapters. The ACLUCT is one of 53 affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union nationwide.
SWAN (www.servicewomen.org) is a national nonpartisan civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN's mission is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans' services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families. You can follow Service Women's Action Network on Twitter at http://twitter.com/servicewomen, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/servicewomen.
In the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, law students represent individual veterans and their organizations under the supervision of clinical professors. Students engage in litigation before administrative agencies and courts on matters including disability benefits claims, Freedom of Information Act requests, and civil rights lawsuits. In addition, students represent local and national organizations on policy matters relating to the legal needs of veterans.