Federal Court Favors Cal-Davis Again in Gender Equity Ruling

Jun 20, 2008

A federal judge has granted summary judgment to the Board of Regents of the University of California, Davis as well as several individual defendants, effectively scuttling the claim of several female wrestlers who believed they were discriminated against on the basis of their gender when the school shut down the program.
The ruling came on the heels of another ruling last December that gave a partial victory to the defendants. In this instance, the defendants’ motion was made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
In ruling for the defendants, the court noted that “there is no question that student athletes are discriminated against and suffer harm when subjected to unequal treatment or ineffective accommodation on the basis of their sex. However, the limited issue presented by the facts of this case on this motion is whether an institution may be held liable for damages for a claim of ineffective accommodation, absent a showing of notice by plaintiffs and an opportunity for defendants to rectify the alleged non-compliance.
“Given Title IX’s express enforcement scheme, the Supreme Court’s analysis in Gebser v. Lago Vista Ind. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 289, 118 S. Ct. 1989, 141 L. Ed. 2d 277 (1998), and the Eighth Circuit’s opinion in Grandson, the court concludes a suit for private damages cannot be sustained until notice and opportunity to cure are given to an institution allegedly out of compliance with Title IX. Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a triable issue of fact regarding whether such notice and opportunity were given in this case.”
In the previous opinion, reported in Legal Issues in Collegiate Athletics and Sports Litigation Alert, the court provided an extensive narrative of the events leading up to the filing of a lawsuit.
“In the 1990s, varsity wrestling at UCD included both women and men,” it wrote. “Female wrestlers at UCD received high quality coaching, wrestled under women’s freestyle rules rather than men’s collegiate rules, and received the various benefits of varsity status. Some of UCD’s female wrestlers went on to national and international acclaim after having trained at and received the benefits of wrestling at UCD.
“Plaintiffs participated in high school wrestling and chose to attend UCD because it offered them the opportunity to participate in wrestling while in college,” continued the court, quoting from the complaint. “Arezou Mansourian and Christine Wing-Si Ng filled out the NCAA and UCD paperwork necessary for intercollegiate athletics, completed the weight certification requirements for intercollegiate wrestling, and participated in UCD’s wrestling program for about 2 years. As varsity wrestlers, plaintiffs received benefits such as medical and athletic training services, laundry services, academic tutoring services, strength and conditioning coaching, wrestling coaching, insurance, access to the weight room, and access to varsity facilities. Lauren Mancuso was recruited to wrestle for UCD and awarded an athletic scholarship. She enrolled, filled out the necessary paperwork, and received the required certifications to participate in intercollegiate wrestling. Shortly thereafter, however, defendants eliminated women from UCD’s wrestling program, and Mancuso was denied her scholarship.”
After the decision was made to shutter the program, the plaintiffs met with the defendants and complained that the action constituted illegal sex discrimination. The plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education in the spring of 2001. Afterward, the defendants agreed to rescind the No Females Directive and to allow women to participate in wrestling.
Based on the latter decision, the plaintiffs returned to the wrestling team. Unfortunately, according to the court, the new coach “did not support women wrestlers and failed to coach them or treat them like the male wrestlers.”
Further, “the defendants informed plaintiffs that to participate in wrestling they would have to be part of a mixed gender team and would have to beat the men at their weight class under men’s collegiate-style rules, even though the women had previously only participated as part of a women’s wrestling program (not a mixed gender team) using international freestyle wrestling rules. Plaintiffs again complained, but the defendants refused and continue to refuse to remedy the situation and to provide women’s wrestling opportunities.
“As a result of the defendants’ actions,” the court continued, “the plaintiffs could not attend wrestling practice, could not use the wrestling facilities or weight room, lost their laundry benefits, lost their insurance they received as wrestling athletes, were banned from receiving instruction from the UCD coaching staff, and were denied athletic training and other medical benefits they received as UCD wrestlers. Plaintiffs also lost the academic credit associated with UCD wrestling athletes, and were denied early class registration.”
On December 18, 2003, plaintiffs Mansourian, Mancuso, and Ng sued the Board of Regents of the University of California; the Chancellor of the University, Larry Vanderhoef; the Athletic Director at the University, Greg Warzecka; Associate Athletic Directors of the University, Pam Gill-Fisher and Lawrence Swanson; and former Associate Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs, Robert Franks, alleging various Title IX, state law and Constitutional violations.
They alleged six claims for relief: (1) violation of Title IX for failure to provide equal athletic opportunities for women; (2) violation of Title IX for failure to provide equal athletic financial assistance to women; (3) retaliation in violation of Title IX; (4) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution; (5) violation of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act; (6) violation of public policy based upon violations of the California Constitution and the California Education Code.
Arezou Mansourian et al v. Board of Regents of the University of California at Davis et al; E.D.Cal; NO. CIV. S 03-2591-FCD-EFB, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33395; 4/23/08
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Debra A. Smith, Noreen Ann Farrell, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Equal Rights Advocates, San Francisco, CA; James C. Sturdevant, Mark Thomas Johnson, Monique Olivier, LEAD ATTORNEYS, The Sturdevant Law Firm, San Francisco, CA; Kristen Marie Galles, LEAD ATTORNEY, Equity Legal, Alexandria, VA. (for defendants) Nancy Joan Sheehan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael William Po, Porter Scott, Sacramento, CA; George A. Acero, Porter Scott, Sacramento, CA.


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