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