Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Coach Fired After Dismissing Dating Player From the Team

Last week, news broke that Prairie View A&M University fired its women's basketball coach after she enforced a no-dating policy against two players who were in a relationship with each other.  The players complained to the university that the policy was discriminatory and violated Title IX.  As coach Dawn Brown reportedly has appealed the decision within the university system, she and her agent have also decried it publically as unjust "scapegoating."

Some additional facts about the coach's actions make it less clear that her actions were discriminatory and unlawful.  First, the policy does not single out players from dating each other.  They are also banned from dating coaches, trainers, managers, and other people associated with the program. To be fair, if you isolate the aspect of the policy that addresses players relationships with each other you could conclude that it discriminates based on sexual orientation (since only lesbians would have those relationships).  But the policy as a whole is arguably neutral as to sexual orientation,since a straight player dating a male trainer would be just as vulnerable to dismissal as lesbian teammates dating each other.  To be clear, I can think of better ways to create a policy about intra-team relationships. but a conclusion that this policy discriminates against lesbians is surely no slam dunk.

Even if we read the policy as discrimination against lesbians, it's not clear -- at least to me -- that this was the reason she was fired.  For one thing, discriminating against lesbians doesn't necessarily violate the law -- as much as I'd prefer otherwise.  Texas does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Title IX only covers discrimination based on sex. While one lower federal court has so far endorsed a view that sex discrimination under Title IX includes sexual orientation discrimination, this is not a universal interpretation and one that is not binding in other jurisdictions.
So if Prairie View A&M's explanation is that the coach was fired for "violating Title IX" this is (I hate to say) a stretch.

Legal issues aside, the facts suggested by Dawn Brown to the media also raise questions about the university's motive.  She says that the policy was developed in consultation with the Title IX office, and that the Athletic Director was involved in the decision to enforce the policy against the players in question. If this proves true, this surely calls into question any explanation of Brown being fired over the enforcement of the policy.  And as we have learned from other cases involving terminated coaches, when a university's rationale for firing a female coach doesn't ring true, it is sometimes pretext for discrimination.