After more than three years of litigation, the University of California has agreed to pay its former wrestling coach at the Davis campus $725,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging retaliation against the coach for supporting the rights of female wrestlers.
Michael Burch, who was head wrestling coach at UC Davis from 1995 to 2001, sued UC Davis and its athletic administrators for not renewing his contract for the 2001-02 school year.
Burch alleged that he was let go because he had advocated the position of female wrestlers, who filed a gender discrimination complaint after the women’s wrestling program was cut. However, there was no admission of liability in the settlement.
Both sides entered into the resolution at the urging of the court, taking into consideration the uncertain nature of trial by jury.
“The decision not to renew Burch’s appointment was based on his performance,” Lisa Lapin, UC Davis News Service, said in a press release. “Coaches in Burch’s classification hold year-to-year contracts with no guarantee of renewal. Neither his conduct toward the women wrestlers nor any issue with the women wrestlers played a part in the decision.
“Resolution of the case will allow the athletic administration to focus on the campus transition from Division II to Division I competition in the NCAA.”
Women’s wrestling, a sport not sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association or sponsored by the Pac-10 or Big West Conference to which UC Davis belongs, was identified as having “unofficial status” during the years that Burch was the head coach.
During his time as coach, fewer than 10 women ever expressed an interest in wrestling and, those who did participate, never wrestled for UC Davis in a dual meet.
It was later revealed after an investigation by UC Davis that Burch had allowed women, who did not have the skills required to earn a place on the varsity team, to participate with the team nonetheless. This, in turn, caused a situation where males, who also did not have the required skills and were not allotted a place on the team, were treated differently than the women.
In response to the complaint of retaliation filed by Burch and the complaint of discrimination filed on behalf of the women wrestlers, the Office for Civil Rights conducted investigations. In October 2001, the civil rights office found that Burch’s claims were without merit and that UC Davis had not discriminated against any women wrestlers.
As part of the office’s discrimination investigation, the campus entered into a Voluntary Resolution Plan. The plan clarified that the coach of the wrestling team would select team members based on those student athletes who demonstrated the highest skill and competitive ability in their weight class.
The coach who replaced Burch required all potential team members to compete for slots on the roster. Two women who tried out for the wrestling team in the fall of 2001 were defeated in a wrestle-off, a standard practice used in collegiate wrestling to determine which student-athletes will be on the team.
The campus also agreed to create a wrestling sport club for men and women. None of the three women who participated in the civil rights complaint ever made the effort to participate in the wrestling club.