A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit in which the Girl Scouts had claimed that the Boy Scouts had created branding confusion and damaged its recruitment efforts by using words like “scouts” and “scouting” in its own marketing materials.
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could describe its activities as “scouting” without reference to gender and that “there are no issues to be tried.”
“The Boy Scouts adopted the scout terms to describe accurately the coed nature of programming, not to confuse or exploit Girl Scouts’ reputation,” Judge Hellerstein wrote in his ruling.
“Such branding is consistent with the scout-formative branding Boy Scouts has used for a century, including in its coed programs that have existed since the 1970s,” he wrote.
He wrote that the term “scout” describes both the Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ programming.
“The Boy Scouts’ decision to become coed, even if it affects Girl Scouts’ operations, does not demonstrate bad faith,” the judge said, adding that “a reasonable jury could not conclude that the adoption of the Scout Terms was in bad faith.”
Judge Hellerstein concluded by calling for the dismissal of the suit, which he described as “serious, contentious and expensive” litigation.
In a statement on Thursday, the Girl Scouts said that it was “deeply disappointed” with the judge’s decision and that it planned to appeal.
“This case is about ensuring that parents are not misled into thinking that Girl Scouts are part of or the same as the Boy Scouts,” the organization added.
In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said it was “pleased that the court has vindicated the B.S.A.’s position and summarily rejected” the Girl Scouts’ claims.
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2018, was one of the recent legal and public-relations skirmishes between the two organizations.
The lawsuit came a year after the Boy Scouts’ announcement that it would broadly accept girls into its programs. The Boy Scouts said that after years of hearing from families who wanted the option of character-development and leadership programs run by the organization, it decided to accept girls.
A filing in federal court in 2020 also accused the Boy Scouts of engaging in unfair competition and trademark infringement. The group cited the Boy Scouts’ “Scout Me In” recruiting campaign, which featured girls in advertisements.
In their marketing, some local Boy Scouts groups included the phrase “Girl Scouting,” which further infringed on longstanding trademarks granted to the Girl Scouts by Congress, the filing said. The Girl Scouts called the overtures “highly damaging.”
The Boy Scouts organization, which was incorporated in 1910, began to accept girls as it saw its membership decline in recent decades. In 2017, the group said that it had 2.3 million members ages 7 to 21 and nearly a million volunteers throughout the United States and its territories.
At its peak in the 1970s, the organization had an estimated five million members.
In 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection. The three-week trial in Delaware over the Boy Scouts’ plan to reorganize in bankruptcy has entered closing arguments. At stake is approval of the organization’s plan to compensate tens of thousands of men who say they were sexually abused while they were boy scouts.
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