Gender and Sexual Orientation Discrimination Alleged at San Diego Mesa College

Aug 29, 2008

The former women’s basketball head coach and the director of basketball operations at San Diego Mesa College have collectively sued the college after they were fired when the local newspaper indirectly revealed that they were a lesbian couple.
Lorri Sulpizio was the women’s basketball coach who led the Mesa College woman’s basketball team through an undefeated season to the Pacific Coast Conference’s Championship in the 2001-2002 season and winning seasons thereafter.
Cathy Bass was originally hired as an assistant coach of the women’s basketball team. But at the time of their firing in April of 2007, Bass had become the director of the college’s basketball operations.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) – which recently won the decision from the California State Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage – filed a lawsuit on the couple’s behalf on July 24 in California State Court. NCLR filed the suit along with the law firms of Boxer & Gerson, LLP and Stock Stephens, LLP on behalf of Sulpizio and Bass.
The complaint alleges that, despite Sulpizio’s and Bass’s dedication and demonstrated track record of success leading the women’s basketball program at the community college, Mesa officials unlawfully fired both coaches at the end of the 2007 academic year, after the coaches spoke out about the unequal treatment of female athletes and women coaches, and following an article in the local paper identifying them as domestic partners.
“While at Mesa, we put the welfare of student-athletes first. We coached outstanding student-athletes to success on the courts and in the classrooms,” Sulpizio said. “We should have been able to advocate for equal treatment of women athletes and faculty without retaliation. Instead, Mesa fired us both for raising issues of unequal treatment and Title IX violations.”
The complaint alleges that Mesa officials retaliated against Sulpizio and Bass for repeatedly raising concerns about unequal treatment of female athletes and faculty, as well as discriminating against them and ultimately firing them based on their gender and sexual orientation. The complaint names Mesa Athletic Director Dave Evans, San Diego Mesa College, and the San Diego Community College District as defendants. The complaint alleges they violated numerous federal and state laws, as well as the California Constitution.
The school had no comment on the filing of the complaint.
The NCLR reported a time line that claims the college’s Athletic Director, Dave Evans, repeatedly sought information about various female employees’ sexual orientation, and brushing off concerns from Sulpizio that the college’s women’s teams did not have adequate equipment and facilities. One repeated point of contention was male football players from rival teams being permitted to use the women’s locker rooms, which left the college’s own female athletes with the public restrooms as a changing area.
The case touches on Title IX issues, with one claim being that the firings were in retaliation for Sulpizio’s advocacy for more a more equitable share of resources for female athletes. Much more central, however, is the issue of anti-lesbian discrimination.
Sulpizio and Bass seek mandatory trainings for all athletic department faculty on the prevention of gender and sexual orientation discrimination and immediate action to bring Mesa’s Athletic Department into compliance with Title IX, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
The office of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education is also investigating the complaints of Sulpizio and Bass.
This is the latest addition to a growing list of athletics-based complaints NCLR has brought against colleges, alleging homophobia and Title IX infractions. The organization has previously scored victories at the University of Florida, Penn State, Fresno State and the University of California at Berkeley.


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