Thursday, September 18, 2008

OCR Finds Title IX Violations at San Diego Mesa College

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights validated the premise of a discrimination lawsuit filed by two former coaches when it confirmed "substantial and unjustified" Title IX violations at San Diego Mesa College this week. The coaches, Lorri Sulpizio and Cathy Bass, sued the college in July, alleging that they were fired in retaliation for complaining about gender inequities within the athletic department as well as for their sexual orientation. OCR lent support to the retalition claim when it found Mesa had discriminated against female athletes in the scheduling of games and practices, access to facilities and locker rooms, and access to medical training. This is consistent with the allegations by Sulpizio and Bass, who reported, for example, that their women's basketball team was frequently disrupted in their practice time by the men's football team and sometimes had to yield their locker room to visiting football teams. OCR also found that that softball, a women's sport, was the only sport that had to share a field with another sport (men's and women's soccer). However, OCR did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that Mesa was discrimination against female athletes in terms of access to coaching, equipment and supplies, and support services.

Mesa has entered into an agreement with OCR to resolve the inequities identified by OCR. It will hire an additional trainer to improve medical treatment for female athletes, it will avoid locker room scheduling conflicts posed by non-conference play, and it will construct a softball field by spring.*

Meanwhile, the lawsuit by Sulpizio and Bass against Mesa remains pending. Technically, the plaintiffs did not need OCR to validate their allegations about discrimination in the athletic department, since they only need to have reasonably believed that Mesa was violating Title IX in order to be protected from retaliation. However, it certainly plays better for a jury for the plaintiffs to say that they were fired for complaining about actual violation, rather than perceived discrimination.

* I'll be impressed if Mesa can really construct a softball field in such a short time. I am going to San Diego for a conference in January -- I think I should head over to the college while I'm there to check on the progress!

[Thanks, Courtney!]