Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Ninth Circuit: Women Wrestlers Can Sue UC Davis for Ending Program
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated a suit alleging UC Davis violated federal law meant to promote gender equity in college athletics when it eliminated its women’s wrestling program.
A three-judge panel ruled that three female wrestlers can pursue an action they filed after the school essentially eliminated their sport by making them compete against males of the same weight after the 2000-2001 academic year.
Noting that the elimination of women from the wrestling team took place amid an overall contraction of female athletic participation opportunities, Judge Marsha S. Berzon turned aside the school’s argument that it had cut significantly from its men’s programs at the same time.
She rejected the university’s contention that it had “a history and continuing practice of program expansion” for women demonstrating effective accommodation of their interests in athletics in compliance with Title IX of the 1972 legislation promoting civil rights in education.
Berzon also wrote that U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell of the Eastern District of California erred when he ruled that students alleging that a university receiving federal funds failed to effectively accommodate women’s interest in athletics in violation of Title IX had to formally notify university officials before filing suit.
Title IX requires schools to offer equal athletic opportunities to men and women. Since its enactment, many female students have sued high schools, colleges and amateur athletic conferences alleging violations of the law.
“We continue to find problems throughout the country finding equal opportunity in sports,” Noreen Farrell, a lawyer with Equal Rights Advocates who represented the wrestlers, said.
In 2007, UC Davis settled a lawsuit for $725,000 by fired women’s wrestling coach Michael Burch, who claimed the university retaliated against him for supporting the women’s lawsuit.
Last year, UC Davis settled another Title IX lawsuit by agreeing to within 10 years bring women’s participation in athletics to within 1.5 percent of its total female student body, which stood at 56 percent in the 2007-2008 academic year.
UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain did not immediately return a telephone call.
Wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Lauren Mancuse and Christine Wing-Si Ng brought a class action suit against UC Davis for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title IX violations after the school first eliminated its women’s varsity wrestling program, and then reinstated it on the condition that women compete against men under men’s rules.
Granting summary judgment for the school, Damrell ruled that the Title IX claim subsumed the Sec. 1983 claims and said the women were required to first give notice before bringing the remaining claim.
Berzon, however, wrote that caselaw imposing a notice requirement did not apply to cases alleging a funding recipient has failed effectively to accommodate women’s interest in athletics. She also rejected the university’s alternative argument that its record of expanding programs for women satisfied Title IX’s requirements.
She said the university “took a significant step towards Title IX compliance by adding three women’s teams in 1996,” but that demonstrating an expansion of opportunities “requires more than a single step.”
“It requires evidence of continuous progress toward the mandate of gender equality that Title IX has imposed on funding recipients for the past thirty years. The record before us does not contain undisputed facts showing a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to women’s interests.”
Judge Mary M. Schroeder and U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur of the Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation, joined Berzon in her opinion.
The case is Mansourian v. Regents of the University of California, 08-16330.
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