Saturday, February 11, 2012

High School Athletes Win Title IX Trial

A group of female athletes in Chula Vista, California, won their class action lawsuit against Sweetwater Union School District, having convinced a federal judge at trial that the school violated Title IX by providing inferior facilities and resources to girls' athletics at Castle Park High School. The judge found that a higher percentage of male athletes than female athletes had access to superior facilities, including dedicated locker rooms and other amenities. For example, the girls' softball field was poorly maintained and lacked fences and covered dugouts, compared to the boys field which was well-maintained, fenced, and had covered dugouts. The judge also found that female athletes were more likely to have fewer coaches, less qualified coaches, and coaches who had to devote more of their time to other school duties. Compared to boys' sports, girls' sports rarely received the support of the school band, and girls sports never received the support of cheerleaders. Boys' teams were permitted to fundraise, while some girls' teams were not. Finally, the judge found that the school district's stated reasons for firing the softball coach were "not credible and pretextual" of retaliation against the softball program for a parent's complaint about gender equity issues.

The plaintiffs had earlier prevailed in the aspect of their case that addressed discrimination in the number of athletic opportunities available to girls, as we blogged about here. The parties have 45 days to propose a compliance plan.

It is common for the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to address disparities in athletic facilities, equipment, and other amenities in high schools as well as colleges. It is less common for plaintiffs to seek judicial enforcement against this kind of discrimination. In fact, the Title IX Blog believes that this is the first time a case about high school facilities has gone to trial in a court. Kudos to the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, the California Women's Law Center, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, who represented the plaintiffs in this precedent-setting case.