Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Court Dismisses Title IX Count Against Pepperdine

In December, we blogged about a lawsuit filed against Pepperdine University by two college basketball players who allege they were harassed and mistreated by their by their coach and other university officials because they are lesbians.  Last week, a federal court in California narrowed the scope of their lawsuit by dismissing their Title IX claim, along with some of their right to privacy claim.  (The court refused to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims under California state law, which prohibits sexual orientation discrimination by educational institutions that accept state funding.)

The court dismissed the plaintiffs' Title IX claim because it alleged discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, specifically, the coach's concern that they were dating each other, which is not prohibited under Title IX.  Yet, the court acknowledged that that sex discrimination includes targeting people who do not comply with stereotypes associated with their sex, and granted the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to add allegations to support that as the basis for the discrimination they experienced at Pepperdine. 

As I noted in my earlier post, I was rooting for this case to push the courts to adopt a broader version of the sex-stereotype theory, one that accepts same-sex orientation as the type of gender nonconformity protected under sex discrimination bans.  So far, gay and lesbian plaintiffs have only succeeded in challenging discrimination due to some visible gender nonconformity, such as in one's appearance or mannerisms, although the EEOC has adopted the broader interpretation.  I wonder if the plaintiffs will add allegations of discrimination due to gender nonconforming appearance to their complaint, and/or take the opportunity for future litigation on its amended complaint to urge the court to accept discrimination motivated by the fact that they were women dating each other as a form of gender nonconformity discrimination actionable under Title IX.

Videckis v. Pepperdine University, 2015 WL 1735191 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 15, 2015).