NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed claims by Girl Scouts that the Boy Scouts had confused the marketplace and harmed their recruiting efforts by using words such as “scouts” and “scouting” in recruitment campaigns.
Manhattan Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could describe their activities as “scouting” without referring to gender and that the issue did not need to go to a jury.
Hellerstein said her written decision caps “serious, contentious and costly” litigation and requires the dismissal of the lawsuit brought by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.
“In truth, the Girl Scouts’ complaint is based, not on concern for brand confusion, but on fear of their competitive position in a market with neutral options for Scouting,” Hellerstein wrote. “Although Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can now compete more than before, neither organization can prevent the other from using the terms Scouts and their marks are unlikely to be confused.”
The lawsuit was filed in late 2018, a year after the Boy Scouts announced Scouting and Scouting would be open to girls, leading the organizations to compete for members after social trends and an increase in participation to sports leagues have been dropping membership numbers for decades. The pattern worsened when the pandemic hit.
“Boy Scouts adopted the terms Scouting to accurately describe the coed nature of programming, not to confuse or exploit the reputation of Girl Scouts,” Hellerstein wrote. “Such branding is consistent with the Scout branding the Boy Scouts have used for a century, including in its co-ed programs that have existed since the 1970s.”
The term “Scout” describes both Boy Scout and Girl Scout programming, Judge wrote.
“The Boy Scouts’ decision to go co-ed, while affecting Girl Scouts operations, does not demonstrate bad faith,” the judge added.
Hellerstein’s decision comes as the Boy Scouts are in bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware that began in February 2020. The Irving, Texas-based organization filed for bankruptcy protection after being named in hundreds of lawsuits brought by individuals claiming to have been assaulted by scout leaders when they were minors.
The Girl Scouts said they were “deeply disappointed” with the decision and will appeal.
“This case aims to ensure that parents are not misled into thinking that Girl Scouts are part of or are the same as Boy Scouts,” the organization said in a statement.
In a statement, the Boy Scouts said the decision confirmed its position.
He noted that 305,000 girls are currently enrolled in his programs and that since full participation was allowed from 2019, more than 2,200 women have become Eagle Scouts.
He said he “looks forward to welcoming more girls into our positive, life-changing programs.”
In his decision, Hellerstein wrote that he sided with the Boy Scouts in part because the Girl Scouts could not prove that a risk of confusion was caused by the Boy Scouts’ use of the term “scout”.
He said the Girl Scouts had cited instances of parents confusing the two organizations. But he added that the choice to join one organization or the other is made after several interactions with the organization, by children’s desire to join a group that siblings or friends have joined, or other factors. unrelated to trademarks and brand image.