The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s finding that two New York State school districts violated Title IX when they scheduled the boys soccer season in the fall and the girls soccer season in the spring, thus depriving the girls program of a chance to compete in post-season competition.
The panel of judges leaned heavily on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) interpretation of Title IX’s implementing regulations, 34C.F.R. 106.41(c), in finding that:
• the scheduling in different seasons “constitutes a disparity that is substantial enough to deny equality of athletic opportunity to girls at the Pelham and Mamaroneck high schools” and
• that “the school districts have not adequately justified the unequal provision of competitive opportunities to girls and boys.”
The complaint was filed by the parents of the student-athletes in April of 2002. Initially, they sought declaratory and injunctive relief, which would force the school districts to move the girls’ soccer season to the fall. The district court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, but after a trial on stipulated facts, held that the defendants’ decision to schedule the girls’, but not the boys’, soccer season in the spring violated Title IX and that plaintiffs were entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief.
On appeal, the panel first examined the question of standing, which was raised by the defendants. The appeals court found that the plaintiffs did have standing because they have suffered an “injury in fact,” because the school district would not allow the team to practice in the fall; there was a causal connection and; the injury would be redressed by a favorable decision.
As mentioned before, the court relied heavily on the Policy Interpretation in determining whether the School Districts’ scheduling of girls’ soccer in the spring violates Title IX. The Policy Interpretation divides Title IX coverage into three areas: 1) compliance in financial assistance based on athletic ability; 2) compliance in other program areas; and 3) compliance in meeting the interests and abilities of male and female students. Policy Interpretation, 44 Fed. Reg. at 71,414.
Deep in the policy interpretation are “factors that should be examined to determine compliance. See id. at 71,416-17,” wrote the court. “As mentioned, with regard to the “scheduling of games and practice time” program component, the Policy Interpretation states that compliance will be assessed by examining, among other factors, the ‘equivalence of men and women of . . . the opportunities to engage in available pre-season and post-season competition.’ Id. at 71,416.”
Another passage that the court believed was significant was “Whether disparities in benefits, treatment, services, or opportunities in individual segments of the program are substantial enough in and of themselves to deny equality of athletic opportunity.” Id. at 71,417.
The court held that the disparity in the instant case me that threshold.
As a side note, the school districts could have offset the disparity by showing that there was a separate comparable advantage to girls or disadvantage to boys.
But “the School Districts have not pointed to … any areas in which female athletes receive comparably better treatment than male athletes at their schools. Thus, the disadvantage that girls face in the scheduling of soccer has not been offset by any advantages given to girls as compared to boys in the Mamaroneck and Pelham athletics programs. Moreover, … male athletes do not suffer from any comparable disadvantage.”
Next, the court turned back to the second part of the Interpretation, which follows an identifiable disparity, that a defendant must “justify” the disparity. The court concluded “that none of the reasons offered by the School Districts justify their decisions to schedule girls’ soccer in the spring thereby denying the girls’ soccer teams the opportunity to compete in the Regional and State Championships.”
McCormick et al. v. School District of Mamaroneck et al., 2nd. Cir., No. 03-7892, 6/4/04
Attorneys of Record: (for Plaintiffs) John Paul Robbins of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP, New York, NY. (for Defendants) Michael A. Miranda of Miranda & Sokokoff, LLP, Mineola, NY. ( amicus curiae) Jay Worona, Latham, NY, for New York State School Boards Association, Inc.