Sunday, June 30, 2013

Quinnipiac settlement approved

Erin wrote in April about the settlement reached in the Quinnipiac class-action lawsuit. As she noted then, the settlement was subject to court approval. That approval came last week. We've already noted some of the terms of the settlement, one of the biggest being the guarantee that the volleyball team would not be cut and that female student-athletes would be receiving more scholarship dollars.
Here is a list (taken from the above link) of some of less discussed but very important settlement terms:
  • Quinnipiac will treat two more of its women's teams as "sports of emphasis," which will lead to more scholarships, more coaches, and better facilities.
  • It will increase its commitment to the new varsity sport of women's rugby by increasing scholarships, raising the level of competition, adding coaches, and substantially improving its field.
  • It will increase its commitment to women's track by increasing the number of scholarships, coaches, and competitions, as well as building an indoor track & field facility that meets NCAA competition standards.
  • It will authorize the maximum number of competitions for all of its teams.
  • It will spend at least $5 million improving the facilities used by women's varsity teams, including locker rooms.
  • It will spend about $450,000 annually improving its women's athletics program by, among other things, increasing coaching salaries, hiring more coaches and academic support staff, and providing greater access to athletic training and conditioning services.  
  • It will allocate up to $175,000 during each of the next 3 years for additional improvements for women's sports.
  • It will hire a "Referee," mutually agreed upon by the parties and confirmed by the Court, to monitor its progress.

A list like this highlights the importance of equal treatment and what equal treatment looks like. Sometime we think that equal treatment is more ambiguous or abstract than equal opportunities which have three methods for assessment. The QU case provides a good example of how equal treatment--or lack thereof--can be remedied.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Title IX Violations Alleged in D.C. Public Schools

The Washington Post reported yesterday on efforts to remedy the gender disparities in athletics throughout the public high schools in the District of Columbia.  This week, the National Women's Law Center filed a complaint challenging the relative lack of opportunities for girls as well as inequalities in the resources available for girls' teams.  As shown in the Post's graphic below, at most of the District's high schools, the percentage of athletic opportunities got girls is at least ten points lower -- and several more than twenty points lower! -- than the percentage of students who are girls. To underscore this disparity, NWLC's complaint notes that if the D.C. Public Schools allocated athletic opportunity proportionate to the representation of each gender in the high school student bodies, an additional 688 opportunities would have to be added for girls.

Collectively, D.C.'s disparities are worse not only than those in surrounding suburban areas, but as compared to those in other major cities  as well, the Post reported. They also indicate a strong possibility of Title IX violations throughout the District, especially when coupled allegations in the complaint that D.C.P.S. found survey evidence of girls' unmet interest in athletics, to which it has not responded. 

It was reported that NWLC filed its complaints with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights after efforts to negotiate with D.C.P.S. were "unfruitful." This apparent recalcitrance is unfortunate, and consistent with the fact, as noted by the Post, that the NWLC is not the first to file Title IX complaints against the District. Hopefully its effort will not need to be duplicated in the future as well. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Is Tenure the Next Title IX Trend?

A lot of research has been devoted to the situation women in academia face in terms of getting jobs, getting tenure-tracks jobs (versus positions as adjuncts, lecturers, and temporary visiting positions). Though the number of women in graduate programs continues to grow and 2010 marked the first time women were awarded more doctoral degrees than their male colleagues, those numbers shift when we look at academic jobs. Fewer men actually start tenure-track positions, but more men have tenure. And there are fewer men in non-tenure-track positions.
But we have largely forgotten about Title IX when it comes to fighting the insititionalized sexism that occurs in academia. This is quite ironic given that Dr. Sandler's impetus for creating Title IX in the 70s came from her losing out on tenure-track positions to male colleagues. Has the time come to use the power of Title IX to being to remedy some of these issues over the treatment of female grad students and faculty members?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, another media outlet that has extensively covered the issue of women's equality in academia, published a very interesting piece this week about the applicability of Title IX to the treatment of women as grad students, post-docs, job applicants, and professors/instructors--especially when they are mothers or become pregnant.
We have discussed the protections Title IX provides to female student-athletes who get pregnant, and we have written about cases of Title IX being invoked when grad students have been retaliated against for complaining about equality. But there has been little--that we have seen at least--about the protections that Title IX affords grad students who hold positions as TAs and RAs.
This was a compelling piece because it brought together--for me anyway--a lot of these issues. We have noted, as have others, that Title IX and STEM is an emerging trend. And the Chronicle piece certainly addresses the issue of the difficulties women face as grad students and faculty in STEM fields. But the subtle and not-so-subtle cues women receive about becoming mothers exists across disciplines. I sat in a lecture in which a tenured, child-free female professor openly stated that she discourages her female graduate students from becoming mothers while in graduate school. Her "advice" was based on the statistics. The Chronicle article is right; we work very hard to just get the PhD; we don't want to hurt our chances in this very difficult job market and our advisers don't want that for us either. And we have seen our peers suffer for their choices to have children or go back to grad school after having children. I have witnessed my child-free female colleagues needlessly suffer through the tenure process. We have learned from what we have seen others go through and we make decisions about our lives based on what is clearly more than anecdotal evidence.
And it is not that these norms have gone unchallenged. Women have certainly brought lawsuits over the denial of tenure. A 2010 Chronicle article, discusses the cases brought by women under Title VII in the 80s and 90s. But as we have seen in other areas of discrimination law--including Title IX--proving intent to discriminate based, in these situations, on sex is becoming more and more difficult. The tenure process itself is so subjective and very few people want to make a federal case--literally--out of the discrimination they have faced. (In 2004 the AAUW published a report entitled "Tenure Denied: Cases of Sex Discrimination in Academia" which offers additional case history.)
What this week's Chronicle article provides though is more about the experiences of grad student and post-docs and the ways in which they can advocate for equality using Title IX. NASA has actually devised a questionnaire that schools can use in a self-study. Though it was written to assess gender equity in the sciences, it can--and should-- be applied across disciplines.
I predict that this issue will follow a path similar to that of sexual harassment and Title IX cases. Unclear or missing policies about discrimination will put a school at risk for a lawsuit. And when a few Title IX cases emerge around this issue--or even a watershed case--more will follow, in quick succession. A lot of schools have been slow to institute comprehensive sexual assault and harassment policies and are paying for it. Maybe they will have learned their lesson and be ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring, at an institutional level, equal treatment of their female scholars.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Survey of female business leaders: almost all played sports

It's not news that athletic participation by women correlates with academic and career success, but this recent study serves as a remarkable underscore of that point.  Accounting firm Ernst and Young surveyed its female senior managers and executives, and found that nearly all of them had played sports at some level -- as high as 96% athletic participation rate among women at the highest level of management! Moreover, when comparing the athletic background between the top executives and managers, the executives had higher rate of athletic participation as former professionals, participants in adult recreation, or as college athletes, suggesting that the benefits of athletic participation are particularly helpful to reaching the very top level of business.  Overall, while athletic participation does not directly cause career success, the strong correlation between the two suggests the possibility that athletics provides women unique setting to cultivate leadership and teamwork skills that have positive impact on their careers.  This, in turn, provides another reason why Title IX is so important: gender equity in athletics today can promote gender equity in the executive suites tomorrow. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Need a fun lesson on Title IX and athletics??

Well we created one! We worked with the amazing people at TED-Ed and put together a lesson on Title IX. The whole lesson can be found here and includes a video, multiple choice and discussion questions, resources, and a discussion board (if you would like to comment after watching). The lesson is aimed at grade school children. But the animation--by Kat Llewellyn--is great and should be enjoyed by all. So here's just the video:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lhamon Nominated to Head OCR

President Obama has nominated attorney Catherine Lhamon to head the The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Lhamon is presently the director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center, a pro bono law firm in Los Angeles. There, her cases have challenged race- and class- based inequities in such contexts of housing, education and workers rights. For example, one of Lhamon's cases successfully challenged the disproportionate impact of statewide teacher layoffs on three low-income Los Angeles schools.

Prior to working at Public Counsel, Lhamon was an attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.  The ACLU is a strong supporter of Title IX, and I found record of at least one Title IX case Lhamon worked on, in which the ACLU and other public interest groups used the statute to challenge a Los Angeles high school's discriminatory practices against gay students and their GSA.  

Lhamon certainly appears to have strong credentials fighting for equality in education.  It will be exciting to see what new energy and ideas she brings to the OCR, pending her confirmation by the Senate.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No more sex segregation in Alabama middle school

Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama was the subject of ACLU action, which we wrote about here, in 2012. OCR investigated the school's sex-segregated practices (which included single-sex core classes, lunch, and homeroom) and determined that they were in violation of Title IX. The segregation was initiated and maintained because of the beliefs about hard-wired sex differences that could be better addressed by separating boys and girls. In addition to research that disputes such beliefs, the school district's own researchers did not see (in test scores) significant improvement in children who were in sex-segregated classrooms.
In accordance with an agreement with OCR, Huffman Middle School will stop this program at the end of this school year.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sexual Harassment Roundup

Here is another installment in our regular effort to provide summaries of all Title IX sexual harassment decisions issued by the courts:

A state court in Pennsylvania agreed that Slippery Rock University lawfully terminated a professor of sports management who, while leading a class trip to Spain, got drunk with his students and made sexual remarks to them. After the trip, a student complained to the professor about his conduct, and he responded by apologizing and by reporting to his Dean what had occurred. Eventually, a disciplinary proceeding ensued that resulted in the professor's termination, due largely to the fact that he had committed an act of sexual harassment in the past, and had agreed that he should be fired if it happened again.  The professor then appealed the decision to an arbitrator, who ordered him reinstated, finding that the university did not provide proper notice to the professor of the charges against him.  The university, in turn, appealed to the court, where the judge determined that, in fact, the notice was proper. As a second reason for overturning the arbitrator's decision, the judge noted that retaining the professor would put future students at risk of harm and the university at risk of liability under Title IX. Therefore, the arbitrator's decision was "against public policy" and should be overturned on that ground.  Slippery Rock Univ. v. Ass'n of Pa.  State College and Univ. Professors, 2013 WL 2450495 (Pa. Comm. Ct. June 7, 2013).

The parents of a disabled student sued a school district, alleging school officials' deliberate indifference to sexual assault by his peers that the student endured in the school bathroom.  However, the court determined that the school was not liable under Title IX because the parents had failed to allege that they notified school officials that he had been sexually assaulted, rather than bullied in a more generic way. C.L. ex rel. R.L. v. Leander Independent School Dist., 2013 WL 2452724 (W.D. Tex. June 4, 2013).

A former student's lawsuit against a community college based on sexual harassment by her professor was dismissed for being filed too late. The statute of limitations that applies to Title IX claims is based on the state's statute for tort claims, which in this case (in Pennsylvania) was two years. Despite the fact that the professor allegedly continued to harass the plaintiff until about a year before she filed suit, the professor was terminated as an employee of the college during that time. Because institutional liability for harassment does not extend to a harassment over which the school has no control (such as by former employees), the court reasoned that she needed to have filed a claim against the institution within two years of the professor's termination. Because she failed to do this, the plaintiff's case was dismissed as untimely. Gjeka v. Delaware County Community College, 2013 WL 2257727 (E.D.Pa., May 23, 2013).

A court dismissed a case against a school district in which a bullied student's parents allege that school officials were indifferent to bullying endured by their son.  The complaint failed to state a claim because the plaintiffs did not allege that the bullying was because of sex (such as targeting the victim for gender nonconformity, or consisting of sexual conduct). Baker v. Hamilton City Schools Bd. of Educ., 2013 WL 1131068 (S.D.Ohio, March 18, 2013).

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's dismissal of a case alleging that school district officials were deliberately indifferent to known threat of sexual abuse by a teacher. Prior to the reports of sexual abuse, school officials had reprimanded and warned the teacher to curtail physical contact with students, based on reported incidents in which he had grabbed or pinched a student. Such response was not unreasonable, the court determined, because the earlier reports of physical contact were of a nonsexual nature. McCoy v. Board of Educ., Columbus City Schools, 2013 WL 538953 (6th Cir. Feb. 13, 2013).

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Sand volleyball trickles down

The NCAA approved sand volleyball for its emerging sports list for DI and II schools in 2010. Now it seems state interscholastic sports associations are testing its feasibility at the high school level. Well, at least in Arizona which recently held its first high school sand volleyball championships. This is the first year of the two-year pilot program for the sport that the Arizona Interscholastic Association approved. And it looks like next year the program will see an additional 15 teams participate. (There were only a handful this year.)
What I found interesting was that student-athletes in Arizona were speaking of their preference for indoor or outdoor volleyball, which confirmed some of our concerns that schools were just doubling up numbers for Title IX purposes rather than creating new opportunities. In other words, sand volleyball teams would likely be comprised of indoor team members. This is certainly happening at the high school level, but how prevalent it is at the intercollegiate level remains unknown. But I was encouraged by the fact that current and former high school volleyballers were talking about choosing either an indoor collegiate program or a sand volleyball program. In fact, one player turned down an offer for an established indoor program to go to a new sand program at USC.
Also our concerns about the sexualization of student-athletes in the sport seemed to also be a concern for Arizona officials. Sand uniforms are the same as indoor uniforms. Spandex shorts (which are admittedly quite short and nothing like men's volleyball shorts) and full-length tops. No bikinis or bathing suit tops.