Monday, February 17, 2014

Lawsuit Against Texas School District Allowed to Proceed

Last summer, a parent and his two daughters sued the Stephenville (Texas) Independent School District, alleging that gender disparities in athletics at Henderson Junior High, where the daughters attend and play volleyball, constitute violations of Title IX.  Recently, a federal judge determined that part of the lawsuit can go forward, having denied the school district's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims that athletic opportunities available to girls are inferior to those available to boys.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege inequities in the assignment of seasons, the number and quality of coaches, the adequacy of facilities and locker rooms, the scheduling of practice times and competitions, and support from booster clubs and other outside funders.  These allegations were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, since they are ripe for litigation and, if proven, would constitute violations of Title IX.  With respect to these claims, the case can proceed to the next stage of litigation, which is discovery.  If the plaintiffs gather sufficient evidence in discovery, the case could go to trial--though settlement is another possible outcome. 

The court did,  however, dismiss the plaintiffs' claim that female students receive an inequitable number of athletic opportunities.  Because the complaint did not allege that the girls were seeking to participate in any athletic opportunities not offered by the school, the court determined that they did not have standing to challenging the absence of those opportunities.  This aspect of the ruling underscores one of the differences between public and private enforcement of Title IX.  Anyone can file a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights--you don't need to be someone personally affected by discrimination.  In contrast, private litigants seeking to enforce Title IX in the courts must have standing in order to do so.  They must maintain throughout the litigation that they have a stake in the outcome of the case.  The plaintiffs here were able to do that with their equal treatment claims because they are current student-athletes at Henderson.  But if they graduate before the case is finally decided, it could potentially be dismissed as moot.  Because of these challenges, we tend to see more public than private enforcement of Title IX with respect to interscholastic athletics.    

Decision: McCully v. Stephenville Ind. Sch. Dist., 2014 WL 292147 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 20, 2014).