By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., Senior Writer and Professor, Sports Media, Ithaca College Roy H. Park School of Communications, email@example.com
On Wednesday, January 18, 2024, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit delivered a favorable ruling to six former members of the Fresno State women’s lacrosse team vacating the District Court’s order denying class certification. With this ruling, the case goes back to the lower court to consider claims that Fresno State deprived women athletes of athletic opportunities and denied women athletes equal treatment (see a summary of this case in the July 28, 2023 issue of Sports Litigation Alert).
Case Specific Background and Implications
In February 2021, Taylor Anders and five of her women’s lacrosse teammates filed a complaint against Fresno State alleging sex discrimination under Title IX. Faced with the prospect of their team being cut as part of a cost-savings plan implemented by the athletic department in response to the negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the women pointed out that the proposed cuts to women’s athletics were increasing existing gender inequalities in the department for women athletes. In the case of the women’s lacrosse team, their circumstances dramatically worsened after the cuts were announced even as the team continued to compete during the 2021-2022 season. The women’s lacrosse team was not assigned a locker room. No return to play plan was provided, as it had been for the men’s teams. The team did not know who was going to be their coach. They also were not issued equipment such as cleats.
In February 2022, the plaintiffs sought class certification for all women athletes and/or potential women athletes. The district court, however, decided twice that it could not grant class certification because of conflicts between the women lacrosse players and the other women athletes they may represent. In effect, the district court explored the logic that if women lacrosse players advocated for equal opportunity their advocacy would be self-serving, theoretically stymieing the interests of other women athletes. As a consequence, women lacrosse players would not be able to represent the gender equality interests of the class overall.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed, noting that an error had been made by the lower court in holding that the women plaintiffs posed a conflict to the resolution of the equal opportunities claim. The central issue is one of equality for women and men. Under Title IX, there are multiple paths a school could travel to achieve that end that might involve increasing opportunities for women, decreasing opportunities for men, or some combination of both. The Ninth Circuit found that the lower court’s speculation as to what might happen at Fresno State was an improper foundation on which to deny class certification. The Ninth Circuit also found that the lower court erred in its analysis of the equal treatment claim. Thus, the case was remanded back to the district court.
In commenting on the victory, Bailey Glasser partner Joshua I. Hammack noted, “…the Court confirmed that those who seek equality are not in conflict with those who stand to benefit from it” (Bailey Glasser Press Release, 2024).
Bailey Glasser. (2024). Federal Appeals Court Vacates District Court Decision in Fresno State Title IX Case, Opens Door for All-Female-Student-Athlete Class Action. Press release. https://www.baileyglasser.com/news-Federal-Appeals-Court-Vacates-District-Court-Decision-in-Fresno-State-Title-IX-Case
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. Case No: 1:21-at-00100. (February 12, 2021). Retrieved from https://dig.abclocal.go.com/kfsn/PDF/021321-kfsn-lacrosse-legal-doc.pdf
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. Doc. 60. Order Granting Motion to Dismiss Count II of the Second Amended Complaint. (October 21, 2021). Retrieved from https://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/california/caedce/1:2021cv00179/388720/73/0.pdf?ts=1635586801
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. Doc. 88. Order Denying Plaintiffs Motion for Class Certification. (August 16, 2022). Retrieved from https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/62fdc0994ea12d25b9b3c93b
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. Doc. 94. Order Denying Plaintiffs’ Renewed Motion for Class Certification, and in the Alternative, Motion for Reconsideration. (November 22, 2022). Retrieved from https://casetext.com/case/anders-v-cal-state-univ-fresno-4
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. No. 22-80137. On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Fresno Division 1:21-CV-00179. (December 15, 2022). Retrieved from https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/8-Motion-for-Leave-to-File-Amici-Curiae-Brief-Equal-Rights-Advocates-et-al.pdf
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. No. 23-15365. On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Fresno Division 1:21-CV-00179-AWI-BAM. (July 7, 2023).
Taylor Anders et al. v. California State University Fresno et al. No. 23-15265. Memorandum. On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Fresno Division 1:21-CV-00179-AWI-BAM. (January 17, 2024). Retrieved from https://www.baileyglasser.com/assets/htmldocuments/Title%20IX%20Fresno%20State%20Ninth%20Circuit%20Decision.pdf