Tuesday, December 14, 2010

UC Davis Officials Do Not Have Immunity from Wrestlers' Suit

Mansourian v. Regents is the case against University of California at Davis in which former female wrestlers challenge the university's decision in 2000 that women would no longer be eligible to participate in varsity wrestling team. The plaintiff's Title IX claims against the university have been litigated in the district and appellate court, and are proceeding toward trial. (For more background, see prior posts here, here, and here.) The plaintiff also filed claims against several university officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (the statute that provides a cause of action for constitutional violations) claiming that the officials violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause. These claims were initially dismissed as preempted by the Title IX claim, but reinstated after the Supreme Court decided in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School District that Title IX and 1983 claims could proceed simultaneously.

So the university officials --the former chancellor, the former associate vice chancellor, the then- and current athletic director, and a former associate athletic director -- tried a different argument to get those claims thrown out of court -- qualified immunity. Under this doctrine, individuals cannot be personally liable for unconstitutional conduct if the law did not clearly forbid the conduct at the time. Recently, however, the district court denied this motion and refused to let the officials out of the case, after determining that the law requiring equal opportunity in athletics was settled at the time, leaving the officials no defense that they didn't know what they were doing violated plaintiff's rights.

The only thing left for plaintiffs to do is to prove their factual allegations at trial, which is scheduled for April.