Court Turns Away School District’s ‘Need’ Argument in Title IX Case

Sep 26, 2008

A federal judge has granted class certification to a group of female high school students who participate or could have participated in athletics were it not for allegedly discriminatory practices at their school.
The plaintiffs initially filed a lawsuit against the Sweetwater Union High School District and several officials, including the school principal, in April 2007. The suit alleged that the high school unfairly favors boys’ sports over girls’ sports by giving the boys better athletic facilities, resources, and opportunities.
“The school treats us like we are inferior to the boys,” Naudia Rangel, a senior softball player at Castle Park High School, said in a statement. “The boys’ baseball field is in great shape, and we are not allowed on it. All we want is to play on fields of the same quality and have the same equipment the boys get automatically.”
The students sought injunctive relief under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which bars sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs. They further demanded that the school officials immediately implement an affirmative plan to remedy the disparities.
In the complaint, they alleged that the boys’ football and baseball teams are given superior playing and practice facilities, which have dedicated locker rooms for just the football team and have access to the best athletic amenities. Female athletes were allegedly denied the use of the boys’ playing fields and the two best batting cages. “The girls must practice and play in facilities that are overused, rundown, and, in the case of the softball field, barely maintained and missing proper bleachers and a complete dugout.
“Instead of addressing the stark discrepancy between the girls’ and boys’ facilities,” maintained the plaintiffs, “the Sweetwater Union High School District further discriminated against female athletes. Approximately $500,000 was spent to construct and maintain a roller hockey rink for the boys’ team, even while the school refused to provide equitable athletic facilities or access to the superior facilities to the existing girls’ teams.
“When parents and students complained about Title IX violations, Castle Park High School made minor cosmetic changes to the softball field but refused to allow the girls to use the boys’ facilities or to improve the girls’ facilities to make them comparable to the boys’. The administration retaliated against the girls by firing their highly qualified and beloved coach and refusing to allow qualified parents to assist the new coach, despite the fact the football team was still allowed to have parent coaches.”
As the litigation progressed, the plaintiffs moved for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b)(2). The defendants opposed the motion, even though they agreed that plaintiffs have met the requirements for class certification set forth in Rule 23(a) and (b)(2). Their argument was based on the fact that the court has “discretion to deny the motion based upon other considerations bearing on the issues, such as the ‘need’ or ‘necessity’ for class certification.”
Specifically, the defendants contended that “a class in this case is unnecessary because all class members will benefit from an injunction issued on behalf of the named plaintiffs even if the class is not certified. In essence, defendants contend ‘for all practical purposes’, the relief requested can be obtained through an individual injunction without the ‘complications of a class action’ and its attendant formality.
“There is no requirement in the Ninth Circuit that the ‘need’ for an injunction be considered in certifying a class. But even if the court conducted a ‘necessity’ analysis here, plaintiffs are in need of class certification. As plaintiffs correctly advance, a certified class action is the proper method for class-wide injunctive relief. Zepeda v. INS, 753 F.2d 719, 728 n.1 (9th Cir. 1983). Because this case concerns students who may, inter alia, move, transfer, or graduate, mootness is an important and real concern. Granting class certification also suspends the statute of limitations as to all individuals who could be members of the class. Any class member may seek to enforce a judgment. Because class actions require court approval of the settlement, class members obtain additional protection in the form of notice to the class. Certification would also permit consideration of evidentiary materials that could otherwise be excluded. Although defendants contend class treatment will needlessly complicate and hinder judicial efficiency, they make no showing that is an accurate assessment here.
“The court declines to invoke the ‘need’ factor in determining whether class certification is appropriate. But even when necessity is considered, class certification is warranted in this case for the reasons set forth above.”
Veronica Ollier, et al., v. Sweetwater Union High School District, et al.; S.D.Cal.;
Civil No. 07cv714-L(WMc), 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65158; 8/25/08
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Elizabeth Kristen, Legal Aid Soc-Emp Law Ctr, San Francisco, CA; Erin Cranman Witkow of Manatt Phelps and Phillips, Los Angeles, CA; (for defendants) Daniel R. Shinoff, Gil Abed, Patricia Michelle of Coady, Stutz Artiano Shinoff and Holtz, San Diego, CA.


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