By Dr. Linda Van Drie Andrzjewski, Wilmington University
On April 26, 2017, Midland College (TX) head softball coach, Tommy Ramos, filed a Title IX lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against the junior college over discrepancies between the men’s and women’s athletic programs, specifically the softball and baseball programs. In his lawsuit, Ramos wants “general compensatory damages to the softball program;” a statement that “the discrepancies between the baseball and softball programs at Midland College violate Title IX;” and “an injunction requiring Midland College to immediately address and substantially equalize these discrepancies” (Kahn, 2017). Ramos has been the head coach of the softball program for 19 years since the team started. The team has played on-campus since 2012. While the field is in “decent shape,” the team lacks facilities. An undersized portable shed is used as the team’s locker room that has one bathroom. The locker room has been frequented by rodents, snakes, and broken into by other people. The bleachers only seat 25 people. Conversely the baseball team uses the former minor-league team’s stadium with lights and indoor batting cages. It has a locker room complete with leather chairs and a training room. In addition to the concerns about the discrepancies between the two facilities, Ramos claims there are also inequalities in how Midland funds men’s and women’s recruiting, and transportation budgets, as well as the general support programs receive from the administration.
Supposedly Ramos has a difficult relationship with Midland College president, Steve Thomas, who arrived nine years ago. Prior to Thomas’s arrival, the previous administration had promised to improve the softball field when it moved on-campus. The improvements would include a locker room and better seating. However, when Thomas arrived, the plans slowed. Finally, in 2015, a permanent bathroom structure with two toilets was added outside the softball field, but that was the extent of the improvements.
Before filing a lawsuit, Ramos originally went to the institution’s human resources director, Natasha Morgan, about his concerns. He explained that because the baseball team had lights and softball did not, practices had to be cut shorter or held earlier, causing students to miss classes. According to Ramos, he did not get very far. Things between Ramos and the president seemed to get worse. When Thomas attended a softball game on occasion, he would sit in the visitor’s bleachers.
But Can You Compare?
While looking at the two programs from the outside, it appears that the softball team is being treated unfairly in this case. However, in the Midland case, the courts will have to look at the entire athletic program, not just softball and baseball, to see if there are discrepancies program-wide. In this case, Midland College has three men’s programs—baseball, basketball, and golf—and three women’s programs—softball, basketball, and volleyball. Other teams’ budgets would have to be analyzed to determine if there are discrepancies program-wide.
Tammie Jimenez, Midland’s volleyball coach, claims she does not have major budget concerns overall. However, she has to fundraise “aggressively to come up with basic expenses like travel, while the men’s program does not” (Kahn, 2017). She is not sure if the institution provides the men’s teams with bigger budgets or because the men’s teams are able to associate with wealthier supporters. Jimenez also stated she was denied the opportunity to use the facility for private lessons and clinics while the baseball coaches are able to do so.
In support of their coach filing a lawsuit, members of the softball team wrote a letter to the president detailing some of the horrors they have been dealing with at the facility. They included the time they walked into the locker room to find a six-foot long snake, only to be laughed at by the facilities manager and told it was not poisonous so they should not worry about it. They mentioned the fact that the locker room cannot be secured properly, causing break-ins, where they have lost thousands of dollars of equipment. They stated they have had an infestation of scorpions in the locker room leading them “to keep all of [their] equipment on the bench to prevent any players from getting stung” (Kahn).
After Ramos filed his suit in April, Midland College filed a motion three weeks later to dismiss it on the grounds that Ramos lacked legal standing. They cited previous cases, including Pederson v Louisiana State University, arguing that Ramos, as the coach, is not personally impacted by the conditions at Midland College, and therefore the case lacks subject matter jurisdiction. In June, a judge agreed and Ramos was told he did not have standing. He is likely filing a motion to reconsider. To counter the dismissal, three softball players currently on the roster are joining the lawsuit. The concern with having current players on the lawsuit is with Midland being a junior college, the students do not spend more than two years there. The three students on the suit may be gone by the time the case goes to trial and will no longer have standing, requiring the team to start all over again with new plaintiffs. Currently, a trial date is scheduled for September, 2018.
Kahn, A. (2017). Rats, snakes, and scorpions: The unthinkable treatment of one softball team and the Title IX lawsuit to fight back. Retrieved from: http://www.excellesports.com/news/womens-sports-title-ix-lawsuit/
Kahn, A. (2017). Update: Midland College softball players join Title IX lawsuit. Retrieved from: http://www.excellesports.com/news/midland-college-softball-players-title-ix/