News

CWLC Wins Sweetwater Title IX Class Action

In a huge victory for girls playing high school sports, on February 9, 2012, San Diego District Court Judge M. James Lorenz ruled that the Sweetwater Union High School District violated Title IX by unfairly favoring boys’ sports over girls’ sports at Castle Park High School (“CPHS”) by giving the boys better athletic facilities, resources and opportunities. The Court also found that the administration retaliated against the girls by firing their beloved softball coach after a parent complained about the inequities. The parties have 45 days to submit a plan to remedy the discrimination.

This case began after CPHS ignored repeated parent requests to improve the dilapidated softball field. The parent requested these improvements after comparing the run-down softball field to the excellent baseball field on campus and after the District spent over $400,000 building a roller hockey rink at CPHS that was used mainly by boys. CPHS responded to the request by firing the softball coach.

Unable to resolve the problem on their own, a small group of softball players and their parents contacted CWLC and our co-counsel the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center for help. As soon as we began to investigate the case – we discovered that the Title IX problems in the athletic department at CPHS were far greater than just the softball versus baseball field comparison. In addition to providing boys with more opportunities to play sports than girls, we discovered that the CPHS athletic department treated boys better than girls in wide variety of sports-related areas, including coaching, locker rooms, uniforms, equipment, scheduling, publicity, medical and training services, and fund-raising opportunities.

We filed the case in 2007 and were joined by co-counsel Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. In April 2009, Judge Lorenz issued summary judgment on one of the claims, ruling that CPHS allowed a “significant gender-based disparity” in the opportunity to play sports at the expense of female athletes. This latest ruling was made after a 10-day bench trial in favor of two remaining claims brought by the class: that the District did not provide both sexes equal treatment and benefits; and that the District retaliated in response to complaints of sex discrimination.

In ruling for the plaintiffs, Judge Lorenz noted: “The balance of hardships weighs firmly in plaintiffs’ favor. The inequalities demonstrated at trial should have been rectified years ago by the district. …plaintiffs are entitled to injunctive relief. Defendants are required to comply with Title IX in all aspects of its athletic programs and activities…”

This case is an important reminder that, although Title IX cases filed on the college level are highly publicized, discrimination is just as likely to occur at the K-12 level. Discrimination in elementary and high schools often goes unchecked because younger athletes and their parents may be unaware that anti-discrimination laws apply to public educational institutions as well as to most private educational institutions if they receive federal funding. Each school system is required to implement and enforce Title IX.

Resources

Read Sweetwater Victory Press Release

Read Sweetwater Decision

Understanding the New Title IX Guidance

On April 4, 2011, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a “significant guidance document” intended to assist schools receiving Federal funding in meeting their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”). Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex – including sexual harassment and sexual violence – in any educational program or activity operated by a recipient of Federal funding.  The new guidance, presented in the form of a letter and entitled “Dear Colleague,” explains schools’ Title IX obligations pertaining to sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Key Points:

Schools must respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence.

If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student sexual harassment or sexual violence, Title IX requires that the school act immediately to eliminate it, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. This is true even if the harassment or violence occurred off school grounds.

School officers and employees must be properly trained.

Schools must designate a Title IX Coordinator to coordinate efforts to comply with and carry out the school’s Title IX responsibilities. Additionally, school employees likely to witness or receive reports of sexual harassment and violence must be trained in how and to whom they should report any such incidents. School employees involved in implementing a school’s grievance procedures should be trained in the school’s grievance procedures, how to handle sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints, and any confidentiality requirements.

Police involvement does not relieve a school of its duty to investigate.

Police reports and police investigations are not determinative of whether conduct violates Title IX; a school is still obligated to conduct its own, independent investigation to determine whether sexual harassment or violence occurred. Schools must carry out a Title IX investigation even if the complainant hasn’t filed criminal charges, and even if police are still investigating the incident.

Investigations must be prompt, thorough and impartial, and use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

If anyone – a student, parent or third party – files a complaint of harassment with the school, or the school knows or should know about possible harassment, it must conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation. Schools must use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in resolving allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence. Schools using a different standard of proof, such as the higher “clear and convincing” standard, are not in compliance with Title IX.

Schools must notify both parties of the outcome.

Schools must notify both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator, in writing, as to the outcome of the complaint and any appeal. If the school determines that sexual harassment or sexual violence did occur, it may disclose to the complainant information about the sanction imposed on the perpetrator if the sanction relates directly to the harassed student.

Emphasis on prevention, protecting alleged victims.

OCR recommends that schools take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence by implementing preventive education programs, and developing sexual harassment and sexual violence materials to educate students and employees. Further, schools should make efforts to protect the alleged victim from any additional trauma, placing the burden of moves or rescheduling on the alleged perpetrator if the two must be separated. OCR also recommends such remedial measures as providing the alleged victim with an escort, counseling, medical and academic support, and allowing the alleged victim to drop and retake classes without penalty.

 

A Story of Two School Districts

When girls, parents, or even coaches complain that girls are getting the short end of the stick compared to boys when it comes to sports, it never ceases to amaze us that schools ignore the problem. By burying their heads in the sand, schools are in essence telling the girls that boys are just more important than they are. But, schools need to address the problem so that their athletic programs comply with the law.

At Castle Park High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista California, the school chose to ignore complaints from girls and parents that the boys’ baseball team was being provided with better facilities and support than the girls’ softball team. Even after we contacted them, the school continued to provide the girls with an inferior sports program as compared to the boys. So, CWLC and the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center filed a Title IX class-action lawsuit to force the school to provide the girls with a sports program as good as the boys. That case was filed in 2008 and will go to trial in September.

But not all cases have to go like that.

After parents were unable to resolve the issues on their own, we wrote a letter to the Torrance Unified High School District about the unfair treatment of the girls’ softball team compared to the boys’ baseball team at West High School. After receiving our letter, the school and the district decided to work with us to fix the problem, and by the next softball season the girls program was improved, the facilities were brought up to snuff and the matter was resolved.

It’s About More than Sports

Did you know that girls who participate in sports are more likely to continue their education beyond high school and to continue on to the workforce after college?

In February the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania released the study,  Beyond the Classroom, by Economist Betsey Stevenson.  The study showed that increased athletic participation by girls since 1972 (the year that Title IX was past), explained about 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women.

When interviewed about the study, Stevenson told the New York Times, “It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life.”

JustPlayNow.org Introduction

Welcome to JustPlayNow.org, a project of the California Women’s Law Center to stop gender discrimination in high school sports.

Even 38 years after gender discrimination in public schools was outlawed, high school girls still do not have the same chances as boys to thrive in sports.  Schools continue to provide boys with more opportunities to play sports, with better facilities, coaching, games and practice times, uniforms, equipment and other treatment and benefits than they provide to girls.

This is unfair and against the law.

JustPlayNow.org has lots of great tools that can help you to pursue athletic equity at your school. You can be the judge of equity in your school’s athletic programs and can use a toolkit to ensure that girls’ are provided fair and equitable athletic opportunities.

Speak up if your school’s athletic programs are not equitable and to empower others as well.  You can help to make sure your school treats girls fairly and complies with the law