Title IX

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

I think my school is in violation of Title IX. What do I do now?

The first step would be to alert your school that it is in violation – many schools do not know the law and what Title IX requires of them. Your school may be willing to make voluntary changes. Each school is required by law to have a Title IX coordinator. Find out who that person is and tell her about the Title IX problem. If your school is a high school or junior high school, you should notify the principal and the athletic director, and the coaches as well. You may also want to notify the school board.

Put your complaint in writing and be sure to keep a copy of your complaint. Students can voice their concerns by writing letters to school officials and school board members. Parents may also advocate for their children, and coaches for their athletes. Anyone can make a Title IX complaint!

In addition, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education is responsible for enforcing Title IX. You can file a complaint with the OCR regarding your school. The OCR has twelve regional enforcement offices, with one located in San Francisco. The OCR website is www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr.

If you have legal questions regarding your school and Title IX, or if you have been unsuccessful in resolving your claim yourself, you can contact the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC) at (323) 951-1041 or email us.

Does Title IX apply to parks and recreation teams?

No. Title IX is an educational law which applies only to schools that receive federal funding. However, California Government Code § 53080 prohibits gender discrimination in community youth athletic programs and parks and recreation facilities. Like Title IX, this law requires community recreational departments to provide boys’ programs and girls’ programs the same level of services, facilities, and supplies.

I have heard that Title IX requires schools to cut boys’ teams. Is this true?

Definitely not. Title IX does not require schools to cut boys’ teams to comply with its requirement that schools provide girls with opportunities to play sports in proportion to their enrollment in the school. Individual schools may choose to cut boys’ teams, rather than add more girls’ teams, as a means to comply with Title IX. However, this is the decision of individual schools rather than a mandate of Title IX.

A better way to comply with Title IX is to raise additional money to fund additional girls’ teams, to trim the fat from bloated “big sport” budgets such as football or basketball, or to cut funding equally from all boys’ teams rather than eliminating a boys’ sport altogether. The decision to cut teams is school-specific and in no way should be blamed on Title IX.

My school is a private school that does not receive any type of federal funding. Does this mean I have no recourse under Title IX?

If it is true that your school receives no federal funding, Title IX does not apply to your school. Be aware that almost all private colleges receive federal funding through financial aid programs. Private high schools or junior high schools may receive some benefit from federal tax dollars (e.g., federal lunch programs), which could subject them to Title IX.

Even if your school truly receives no federal funding, there are separate California laws which mirror Title IX but apply to schools that receive state funding. California Education Code § 221.5 and California Education Code § 66271.7 prohibit gender discrimination in schools. The requirements are almost identical to Title IX’s requirements, so this manual will still be useful in helping you determine whether your school is in compliance with California law.

There is a female club field hockey team at our school with enough female players to field a varsity team. The club has asked to be given varsity status, but the school claims there is not enough funding. Is this legal under Title IX?

If your school provides boys with a greater number of slots on athletic teams than their proportion of the school population, then refusing to add another girls’ team is most likely a violation of Title IX. Lack of funding is never a valid justification for discrimination under Title IX. If there is a club team that has enough members to field a varsity team, has teams at other schools in the region to play, and has asked to be awarded varsity status, then the school is not currently meeting female athletic interest and ability and is probably violating Title IX.

I am a coach of a girls’ high school basketball team that is being discriminated against by the high school in violation of Title IX. Is it legal for the school district to fire me for filing a Title IX complaint?

No. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal for a school district to retaliate against any person for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title IX.

Coaches and teachers are often the best advocates for the rights of their students because they frequently are in the best position to identify discrimination and bring it to the attention of administrators.

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.