Settlement of UC Davis Title IX Lawsuit Could Have National Impact

Jul 31, 2009

When the University of California Davis announced the settlement of a gender equity lawsuit in late June, the news garnered plenty of local headlines, but barely a blip across the national landscape.
At least one noted Title IX expert, however, told Sports Litigation Alert that the agreement reached between the school and plaintiffs Kelsey Brust, Jessica Bulala and Laura Ludwig has “clarified a standard for other schools around the country.”
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law and herself a former student-athlete, pointed specifically to the standards used for female participation rates in varsity sports.
“The UC Davis case clarifies the statistical range for compliance under Prong 1,” said Hogshead-Makar. “The 5 percent deviation was never the law – the OCR 1996 Clarification made it clear that the differential depended on the size of the athletic department, with larger athletic departments allowed a far smaller gap than smaller ones. Nonetheless, it was achieving ‘conventional wisdom’ status, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the UC Davis case deserve a lot of credit.”
Brust and Bulala, who played club field hockey, and Ludwig, who had wrestling experience and played club rugby, filed the Title IX lawsuit in July 2007. The case, which had been certified as a class action in October 2008, was set to go to trial this October. Both sides had actively litigated the case.
Yet, at the same time, UC Davis took proactive steps aimed at bringing gender equity at the school. For example, the university conducted an open application process and selected women’s field hockey as a new intercollegiate sport, to join the 14 other women’s varsity teams at UC Davis. The team begins play this fall.
“UC Davis has a solid history of commitment to its female athletes and coaches and to expanding opportunities for women in competitive sports,” said Greg Warzecka, UC Davis athletics director. “While the parties have a difference in opinion about whether litigation was necessary, we’re pleased that we have reached an outcome that benefits both sides.”
The agreed-upon settlement sets out a 10-year plan for UC Davis to reach specific proportions of male and female athletes by the 2019-20 school year. The university will either add women’s intercollegiate teams or will take other measures to ensure equal accommodation of student interest in varsity sports. UC Davis has also agreed to contribute $110,000 to a fund for the development of club sports, which the plaintiffs will distribute consistent with the purposes of the lawsuit.
“The time frames set out in the settlement maximize the potential to add varsity opportunities for women in the future,” Warzecka added. “We are continually trying to maintain our compliance efforts to give women athletes the very best access to intercollegiate athletics competition possible.”
Donna Lopiano, another Title IX expert and former head of the Women’s Sports Foundation, viewed the settlement as a welcome trend.
“Settlements are always better than going to court,” Lopiano, who currently heads the consulting firm Sports Management Resources, told Sports Litigation Alert. “The institution saves money that can better be used for Title IX compliance. The plaintiffs have their Title IX complaint resolved. Only the lawyers lose out on large fees, which is a good thing from an institutional and plaintiff standpoint.”
Representing the plaintiffs were Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates, Monique Olivier of the Sturdevant Law Firm and Kristin Galles of Equity Legal.
For more on the settlement, visit:


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