Lawsuit between Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and national organization imperils cookie sales

Girl Scout Cookie sales are an anticipated annual tradition. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Girl Scout Cookie sales are an anticipated annual tradition. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

An ongoing lawsuit may determine whether or not Girl Scouts will be selling cookies in Middle Tennessee next year. 

The  Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee (GSMT) started in 1917 and has over 10,000 girls participating, but the past few years  have been spent in conflict with their parent organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA).

On Dec. 4, 2020, GSUSA issued a one-year charter beginning Jan. 1, 2021 and ending Dec. 31, 2021, with the intent to give GSMT time to comply with the Girl Scout Movement’s common technology platform.

The GSUSA then sent a letter to the Middle Tennessee chapter, notifying them that they had until April 30, 2021 to comply with the technology requirements the national group was requiring of all Girl Scout chapters across the state. If the Middle Tennessee organization  refused, their ability to operate as Girl Scouts in the state would be in jeopardy. 

April came and went with both sides refusing to reach an agreement, prompting the Middle Tennessee chapter to file a lawsuit against GSUSA.

According to the lawsuit, the Middle Tennessee chapter stated that the GSUSA had violated Tennessee law, which protected their rights as a Tennessee nonprofit organization to avoid termination without good cause.

Although over 100 Girl Scout chapters nationwide had already updated their operating systems, GSMT refused on the grounds that the contract they were asked to agree to was unreasonable and wasn’t guaranteed to work for Middle Tennessee girls, volunteers and troop leaders.  

While GSMT did not object to utilizing the technology platform, they disagreed with the terms. Apart from the operational fees—with web platform fees starting at $15,000– GSMT stated there were unknown costs that would come from the new operating system. 

GSMT is responsible for their own governance, finances, operations and expenses, which includes purchasing Girl Scout Cookies at wholesale prices. Since the GSUSA has no responsibility overseeing Middle Tennessee’s operation or property, they should not be asking them to foot the bill, local officials  added. 

“GSMT is unwilling to give GSUSA a perpetual blank check to pass on to GSMT costs that GSUSA decides to incur,” according to the lawsuit.

Disputes between the two also extended to membership fees, with GSMT refusing to pay the new membership fee increase from $12 to $25. 

GSMT cited a 2019 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court in favor of the  state Girl Scout chapter in a lawsuit over annual fees, which stated that the GSUSA national council did not have exclusive authority over fee increases. 

The GSUSA declined to comment when reached by a Lookout reporter, but in a letter stated that the technology platform was critical to” streamlining operations, ensuring consistent delivery of experiences to girls and volunteers, enable modern digital capabilities and ensure quality control over the Girl Scout Brand.” 

GSMT had not responded to a request for comment at publication time.