Advocacy group sues Pentagon for data on service academies' recruiting, gender targets

HARTFORD, Conn. – The overwhelmingly male U.S. service academies have not responded adequately to requests for details on recruiting policies and gender targets, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by plaintiffs including an advocacy group for female service members.

The Service Women’s Action Network, which advocates for female service members and veterans, and the American Civil Liberties Union asked for the data in November as a starting point for what they describe as a broader challenge of the admissions practices at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy.

“The underrepresentation of women at the Military Service Academies contrasts starkly with the wide range of opportunities for military leadership open to women after graduation, particularly in light of the Department of Defence’s elimination of gender-based restrictions on women’s service in combat units and specialties,” Michael Wishnie, an attorney with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, wrote in the complaint filed in federal court in Connecticut.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, said that as a matter of policy the Defence Department does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the complaint, women make up less than 25 per cent of students at each of the three Pentagon-run service academies, which first began enrolling women in 1976. It said West Point has goals for women to make up 14 to 20 per cent of its cadets, the Air Force Academy in Colorado caps enrolment of female cadets at 23 per cent and at the Naval Academy in Maryland, women make up less than a quarter of midshipmen.

“We want to shed light and transparency on the mechanisms that keep these numbers so low,” said Stephen Glassman, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, which is also among the plaintiffs.

Not included in the litigation is the Connecticut-based U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security — and not the Pentagon — and typically has female enrolment of 30 to 35 per cent among its cadets.