University of California Davis Gets Partial Victory in Title IX Case

Jan 4, 2008

A federal judge from the Eastern District of California has given a partial victory to a university and its athletic department officials in a case where they were sued after discontinuing a women’s wrestling program.
On December 18, 2003, plaintiffs Arezou Mansourian, Lauren Mancuso, and Christine Wing-Si Ng – all former female wrestlers at the University of California, Davis — sued the 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.
In its ruling, the court sided with the defendant that the statute of limitations had expired on some of the plaintiffs’ claims, while other aspects of their claims are better decided when considering summary judgment or at trial. Finally, the court found that individual defendants in the case were shielded by immunity statutes under state law.
By way of background, the court wrote that “in the 1990s, varsity wrestling at UCD included both women and men. 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. “Mansourian and 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. 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 defendants refused and continue to refuse to remedy the situation and to provide women’s wrestling opportunities. As a result, to date, no women are allowed to participate in UCD wrestling.
“As a result of defendants’ actions, 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.”
This led to the plaintiffs filing a lawsuit, alleging 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.
Further, the court noted that the plaintiffs are asserting claims against defendant UCD under both an unequal treatment theory and an ineffective accommodation theory. The defendant, UCD, moves for judgment on the pleadings as to both theories.
Pursuant to an “unequal treatment” theory, the plaintiffs sought damages arising out of the No Females Directive issued in the fall of 2000; an alleged broken promise in June 2001 to reinstate the female wrestling program at UCD; the failure to renew the contract of their wrestling coach; and requiring females to compete for membership on the UCD wrestling team under the same terms and conditions as male athletes in the fall of 2001.
The defendant argued, successfully, that the plaintiffs had merely alleged a series of discrete acts, and that the last discrete act occurred on October 16, 2001 with the resolution of plaintiffs’ OCR complaint. Thus, it argued, the plaintiffs’ claims tolled in October 2002, well before the claim was filed.
Turning to the next theory, the court reviewed the defendant’s argument that the plaintiffs’ ineffective accommodation claim should be dismissed because plaintiffs (1) alleged insufficient facts to support standing for an ineffective accommodation claim; (2) failed to give notice of their claims; and (3) cannot assert a claim for damages based specifically upon the lack of opportunity to wrestle.
On the first point, the court wrote that “viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the court cannot find as a matter of law that defendant’s proffered opportunity constituted an effective accommodation. Therefore, defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to plaintiffs’ ineffective accommodation claim on the grounds that plaintiffs lack standing to sue is denied.”
As for the argument that the plaintiffs failed to give notice, the court found that a determination about “whether plaintiffs provided defendant with notice” based on documents related to the OCR action “is a factual dispute that must be resolved on summary judgment or at trial.”
Turning to the last point related to damages, the court noted that the defendant relied primarily on Nat’l Wrestling Coaches Ass’n v. Dep’t of Educ., 361 U.S. App. D.C. 257, 366 F.3d 930 (D.C. Cir. 2004), “in support of its assertion that plaintiffs’ claim must fail because damages are too speculative.”
In the instant case, however, the plaintiffs “seek monetary and punitive damages for injury resulting from lost opportunities while they were students at UCD. Plaintiffs allege actual injury, including lost educational opportunities, increased education expenses, and emotional distress, all arising from defendant’s alleged violations of Title IX. As such, plaintiffs have sufficiently demonstrated that the monetary relief sought in this case would sufficiently redress their alleged injury. Therefore,” wrote the court in finding for the plaintiffs, the “defendant’s reliance on National Wrestling Coaches is misplaced.”
UCD, however, was successful in its argument that that plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages under Title IX must be dismissed because they are not permitted under federal law, citing case law in Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 187, 122 S. Ct. 2097, 153 L. Ed. 2d 230 (2002)
The plaintiffs regained their footing on the issue of emotional distress damages when the court noted that given “the absence of any authority on point, (it) cannot find as a matter of law that plaintiffs are not entitled to emotional distress damages.”
The court went on to review the defendant’s motion as it relates to the plaintiffs’ claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “against the individual defendants for monetary damages based upon alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause.” On this point, the defendants were successful in arguing that “the plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim must be dismissed because it is subsumed by Title IX.”
Among the defendants’ other victories was the court’s conclusion that “the individual defendants made actual, conscious, and considered collective policy decisions,” entitling them to immunity, pursuant to state law.
Arezou Mansourian et al v. Board of Regents of the University of California at Davis et al; E.D.Cal; NO. CIV. 2-03-02591-FCD-EFB; LEXIS 77534; 10/18/07
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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