Friday, October 08, 2010

Indiana Scheduling Case Decided On Summary Judgment

Yesterday, federal district court judge William T. Lawrence of the Southern District of Indiana dismissed claims against the Indiana High School Athletic Association and area high schools that scheduling girls' basketball for fewer Friday and Saturday night games violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. We've been following this case for a while, see prior posts here, here, here, and here.

In evaluating whether the high schools themselves violated Title IX, Judge Lawrence acknowledged that the regulations require equal treatment between boys' and girls' teams, and that the regulations specifically cite "scheduling of games and practice time" as an aspect of this determination. 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(c)(3). The judge also cited OCR's 1979 Policy Interpretation, which provides additional guidance for evaluating equality between athletic opportunities offered to each sex:
a. Whether the policies of an institution are discriminatory in language or effect;
b. Whether disparities of a substantial and unjustified nature exist in the benefits,
treatment, services, or opportunities afforded male and female athletes in the
institution’s program as a whole; or
c. Whether disparities in benefits, treatment, services, or opportunities in
individual segments of the program are substantial enough in and of themselves to deny equality of athletic opportunity.
Disparities in treatment, the judge concluded, must be "substantial" to constitute a violation of Title IX. In other cases involving scheduling, the judge acknowledged, courts have concluded that decisions to schedule girls' sports in a nontraditional season violated Title IX because such decisions limited the female athletes' access to role models, skills development, and team-building. But playing more weeknight games does not harm female athletes in these particular ways, so therefore, he reasoned, the high schools' scheduling decisions do not create substantial disparities in violation of Title IX.

Missing from the judge's analysis is an independent evaluation of the effect of a disparity in night-of-the-week scheduling, rather than season-of-the-year. Granted, judicial decisions to date have dealt with the former rather than the latter. But simply to conclude that the plaintiffs didn't suffer the same kind of harm as those in the season-of-the-year case is insufficient reasoning, as it fails to consider whether the harms from having more weeknight games might be substantially harmful in a different way. Greater academic challenges and a diminished opportunity to develop a fan base are two possible harms that come to mind. Another possibility -- which actually does have support in the season-of-the-year scheduling cases, is that scheduling girls' sports more often at a non-preferred time stigmatizes girls' teams with second-class status.

Another concern I have is that the factors cited by the judge from the 1979 Policy Interpretation are alternative, not conjunctive, suggesting that noncompliance might result from failure to comply with either standard independently. It seems to me, then, that the judge should have evaluated under part a. whether the schedule contains "discriminatory language or effect" as well as whether the effect of discrimination was "substantial," an element of b. and c. A schedule that relegates girls games to more weeknight games seemingly constitutes "discriminatory language or effect."

The judge also decided that the IHSAA did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, nor (in a separate decision issued last week) Title IX, reasoning that IHSAA did not determine the schedule of games; it only tells member institutions how many games it can schedule, when the season starts and ends, and limits each team to no more than two weeknight games per week. The judge did not endorse the plaintiff's argument that the IHSAA's failure to require gender equity in scheduling was "deliberate indifference" to discrimination, noting the absence of precedent for such a standard in these kinds of cases.

I am rooting for an appeal.

Decision: Parker v. Indiana High School Athletic Ass'n et al, 1:09-cv-00885-WTL-WGH (S.D. Ind. Oct. 6, 2010) (retrieved from Pacer, not yet available on Westlaw).