Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Indiana Scheduling Practice Violates Title IX, Appellate Court Rules

Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a scheduling practice that reserves "prime time" Friday night scheduling for boys basketball games while relegating the girls' games mostly to the less preferential weeknights, violates Title IX. The case at hand was filed in 2010 by a former Franklin County, Indiana, basketball coach, Amber Parker against Franklin County school district, the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference, and its high school members. Earlier, the district court dismissed the suit after determining -- without sufficient analysis, in my opinion -- that the scheduling disparity was substantial enough to constitute a denial of equal treatment under Title IX. But the plaintiff appealed, and today's appellate court reverses the lower court's ruling and reinstates the case.

Unlike the district court, the appellate court acknowledged that the scheduling of most girls basketball on weeknights has a negative affect on girls that constitutes a substantial deprive of equal treatment. For one thing, community members are less likely to attend weeknight games, which deprives the girls' teams of audience and community support. It also imposes on girls a larger burden that their male counterparts to balance sports with academic work during the week. Moreover, the court acknowledged that the scheduling disparity can harm female athletes in a psychological way because it casts girls' activities as inferior to boys. This inferior treatment, reasoned the court, contributes to the perception that girls' sports are "second class" and undeserving, a perception that deters girls from participating in sport, "in contravention of the purposes of Title IX." This perception is also transmitted to fans and contributes to their lack of support for girl teams.

The appellate court also reinstated plaintiff's claims that the schools' scheduling practices violate the Equal Protection Clause, which district court had wrongly dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds.