Sunday, December 02, 2007

Alumna Threatens Suit Against High School

The Bogalusa (Louisiana) Daily News reports that Twanda Gatlin, a member of the Bogalusa High School girls' basketball team from 1988 to 1992, has threatened to sue her alma mater for violating Title IX's requirement that girls and boys have equal access to coaching and practice time.

The disparity Ms. Gatlin is challenging results from the fact that the head coach of the girls' team is also the football coach. So the girls' basketball season does not start until football season is over. Gatlin is a certified coach and has volunteered to coach the girls for the first few weeks of the season, until the head coach is free to take over, but the high school rejected her offer due to policy requiring that a head coach be present at all practices.

While the situation Gatlin cites seems to be a clear violation of Title IX, it's not clear that she's the right person to file a lawsuit in federal court if that is what she is planning. Federal courts require plaintiffs to have standing, that is, to be among the persons who are injured by the defendant's wrongful conduct. So a current player could sue the school, as could a parent because parents are allowed to bring claims on their children's behalves. A teacher or a coach could sue if he or she suffered retaliation for raising the issue of inequality to the school's attention, but this does not seem to be the case here. And even if Gatlin suffered the same discriminatory treatment when she was a member of the team 15+ years ago, the statute of limitations to seek remedy for this injury has expired.

Significantly, however, there is no standing requirement to file an administrative complaint with Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. So Gatlin can still use the law as leverage to encourage the school to remedy the situation. The only difference is that what's at stake for the school is potentially less severe, as OCR is likely to require the school to fix the problem, where a federal court has the power to make the school pay damages. But I hope a school would rather rearrange this coaching situation than deal with an OCR investigation, especially where it's so clear that the school is in violation of Title IX.