Friday, July 25, 2008

Coaches' Lawsuit Charges San Diego Mesa With Homophobia, Retaliation

A lawsuit filed in California state court charges that San Diego Mesa College discriminated against former women's basketball coach Lorri Sulpizio and former director of basketball operations Cathy Bass when it fired them both last year. The coaches were advocates for gender equity and had challenged discriminatory treatment of their team, such as being barred from their own locker room during a November invitational because it was being used by visiting football teams, being disrupted in their practice by the men's football team, and other inequities.

Sulpizio and Bass had also recently been identified in a local news story as domestic partners, which the plaintiffs believe contributed to the Athletic Director's decision to fire them because he had in the past investigated and inquired about Sulpizio's sexual orientation. In fact, the AD had once told a faculty member that someone needed to restore “the image” of the team, and that “lots of people” in the community had been talking about “it.” (referring to Sulpizio’s and Bass’s sexual orientation).

Before her termination, Coach Sulpizio had spent five years as head coach, a year as interim head coach, and three years as an assistant coach of the Mesa women’s basketball team. During this time, the team was successful by several measures, including logging regular appearances in the conference tournament and winning a conference championship in 2002. Sulpizio also sent a higher-than-average percentage of athletes to play ball and receive degrees from four-year schools. Bass and Sulpizio met when both were assistant coaches in 1999; Bass later became an adjunct faculty member and the director of basketball operations.

Sulpizio and Bass are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (the folks who brought down Rene Portland) and two local law firms. NCLR's Helen Carroll, quoted in this story at, sounds confident as she puts the case in the context of the trend in retaliation cases (which we've noted on this blog before): “Women coaches, and especially lesbian coaches, are taught to not rock the boat... But I think we’re seeing a new wave of Title IX retaliation cases because I believe the coaches feel that they have help now with that. Before, coaches would be quiet and leave and just get another job somewhere. Now the courts are saying, ‘We’ve got your back.’”