Monday, November 20, 2006

Title IX Analogy Fails Paralympic Plaintiffs

Elite Paralympic athletes sued the U.S. Olympic Committee, charging it with discrimination in the distribution of services and benefits as compared to Olympic athletes -- for example, the monetary award for Paralympic medalists are 1/10 the award to Olympic medalists -- as well as marketing of the Paralympic trademark relative to the Olympic trademark. They argued that the discriminatory treatment by the USOC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, notwithstanding the fact that the USOC receives its authority from a separate congressional statute, the Amateur Sports Act.

Last week, a federal district judge in Colorado granted the USOC's motion to dismiss the case. Shepherd v. U.S. Olympic Committee, 2006 WL 3333677 (D. Colo., Nov. 16, 2006).

The plaintiffs had urged the court to enjoin the USOC to adopt an "equitable" or "proportionate" remedial standard "along the lines of that available under Title IX and its implementing regulations." Under Title IX's regulations, it is not exclusion of women from men's sports teams that violate the prohibition on sex discrimination; it is the inferior quality and quantity of participation opportunities in men's and women's athletic programs. Paralympic athletes relied on this regulatory interpretation of Title IX to suggest that the USOC permissibly operates separate programs for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, yet must ensure equitable and proportionate treatment of each program. They also pointed out that analogizing to Title IX makes sense in this context as both Title IX and the Rehabilitation Act are statutory siblings in a way (both of those antidiscrimination statutes were modeled after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination in public accommodations).

But the federal district judge said that while she "appreciate[d] the analogy and agree[d] Title IX's regulatory remedial scheme works well with Plaintiffs' theory of relief in this case," she would not permit the plaintiffs to "graft a remedial scheme promulgated under a statute banning sex discrimination onto statutes prohibiting disability discrimination, and then infuse both into the statute establishing the federally chartered corporation that oversees the country's amateur athletic system and has exclusive jurisdiction over matters pertaining to international Olympic, Paralympic and Pan-American competition." But even though Tiitle IX could not influence the judicial remedy in this case, the judge did suggest that it might influence an appropriate political remedy instead, by serving as "
as a paradigm for appropriate congressional and agency action."

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