Girl Scouts accuses the Boy Scouts of using unfair and ‘damaging’ recruitment war tactics

The Girl Scouts are continuing their legal battle against the Boy Scouts of America, accusing the group of using their phrases and ‘damaging’ marketing tactics to poach female recruits.  

In the spring of 2018 the once boys-only program announced it will change its name to Scouts BSA to accommodate girls and started accepting female recruits in early 2019. 

Since then, there’s been an escalating recruitment war between the two organizations and some girls have unwittingly joined The Boy Scouts due to misleading and confusing ads, the Girl Scouts’ lawyers say. 

On Thursday lawyers for the Girl Scouts filed papers in Manhattan federal court to repel an effort by the Boy Scouts to toss out a trademark infringement lawsuit the Girl Scouts filed in 2018. 

The Girl Scouts claim that the Boy Scouts has unfairly recruited girls lately, according to the legal briefs.  

The Girl Scouts claim that The Boy Scouts used their phrases such as ‘scouts’ and ‘scouting’ in ads targeting girls and in Illinois a Boy Scouts council improperly used pictures of Girl Scouts to promote a Boy Scouts sign-up night event. 

They cited several examples of Boy Scout councils returning registration checks to families who mistakenly though they were enrolling their kids in The Girl Scouts. 

The Girl Scouts have accused Boy Scouts of America of using unfair and ‘damaging’ recruitment tactics after it opened its core services to females to get more recruits. File image of a Boy Scout uniform above

Last month, lawyers for the Boy Scouts asked a judge to reject claims that the Boy Scouts cannot use ‘scouts’ and ‘scouting’ in its recruitment of girls without infringing trademarks, calling the lawsuit ‘utterly meritless.’

The Boy Scouts on Saturday pointed to legal arguments in which it blames the Girl Scouts for reacting to its expansion plans with ‘anger and alarm’ and said the Girl Scouts launched a ‘ground war’ to spoil plans by the Boy Scouts to include more girls.

In a statement, the Boy Scouts said it expanded program offerings for girls ‘after years of requests from families’ who wanted their boys and girls both participating in its character and leadership programs or for other reasons, including a desire to become an Eagle Scout.

‘We applaud every organization that builds character and leadership in children, including the Girl Scouts of the USA, and believe that all families and communities benefit from the opportunity to select the programs that best fit their needs,’ the statement said.

The Boy Scouts pictured above saluting the flag in September 2013 in Seattle

The Boy Scouts pictured above saluting the flag in September 2013 in Seattle

In its filing, the Girl Scouts said the Boy Scouts’ marketing of expanded services for girls was ‘extraordinary and highly damaging to Girl Scouts’ and had set off an ‘explosion of confusion.’

Lawyers for the Girl Scouts claim that after the Boy Scouts opened to girls, they started using  Girl Scouts’ intellectual property, employing targeted advertising with terms such as ‘Scout, Scouts, Scouting, Scout Me In and Scouts BSA,’ the lawyers wrote. 

‘As a result of Boy Scouts’ infringement, parents have mistakenly enrolled their daughters in Boy Scouts thinking it was Girl Scouts,’ the lawyers said, adding that this never occurred before 2018.

The Girls Scouts said they can prove there are ‘rampant instances of confusion and mistaken instances of association between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts’ after the Boy Scouts targeted girls and their parents with marketing and recruiting communications in ways it never has before.

The organization cited proof from a narrow subset of documents turned over by 19 of 250 local Boy Scout councils, including evidence that registration fees sometimes were returned to parents who mistakenly thought they registered girls for the Girl Scouts.

It said repeated instances of confusion and interference at the local level by the Boy Scouts was a tiny fraction of what was occurring nationwide.

Each of dozens of times the Girl Scouts complained about unfair marketing, the Boy Scouts responded by blaming individuals, churches or others for what they said was an isolated incident, the lawyers said.

A file image of a Girl Scout's vest above

A file image of a Girl Scout’s vest above

In its statement, though, the Boy Scouts said: ‘To imply that confusion is a prevailing reason for their choice is not only inaccurate – with no legally admissible instance of this offered to date in the case – but it is also dismissive of the decisions of more than 120,000 girls and young women who have joined Cub Scouts or Scouts BSA since the programs became available to them.’

‘The parties’ programs, which have many similarities, are now directly competitive,’ the Girls Scouts maintained. 

‘According to Boy Scouts, blame for the rampant marketplace confusion lies at everyone’s feet but its own,’ they wrote.

Both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, like other major youth organizations, have seen declines in membership in recent years as competition grew pre-pandemic from sports leagues and busy family schedules.  

The Boy Counts contend that they have used the word ‘Scout’ alone for more than 100 years and weren’t trying to copy the Girl Scouts.  

It said hundreds of thousands of pages of documents produced in the court case and more than 40 depositions of witnesses prove the Boy Scouts never engaged in trademark infringement or created consumer confusion.

View of Girl Scouts members pictured above

View of Girl Scouts members pictured above

The lawyers for Girl Scouts said Boy Scouts councils in Illinois acknowledged improperly using the Girl Scouts’ slogan in Cub Scout recruiting materials and pictures of Girl Scouts to promote a Boy Scouts ‘Scouts Sign-Up Night!’ 

They said a western Massachusetts Boy Scouts council posted a recruiting flyer on Facebook including a photograph of a girl depicted in her Girl Scouts Brownie uniform.

Meanwhile, Ohio Boy Scouts used the Girl Scouts trademark to try to get a local newspaper to write an article, suggesting a storyline entitled ‘Boy and Girl Scouts Looking for Members’ even though the recruitment involved only the Boy Scouts, the lawyers said.

In Seattle, a Boy Scouts council used the Girl Scouts trademark in social media recruiting materials, the lawyers said.

They said confusion has skyrocketed among children, parents, schools and religious organizations and they cited examples in other states, including Florida, Minnesota, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Hawaii.       

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