Title IX Enforced to Level the Playing Field for Female Student Athletes

In Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High Sch. Dist., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 18020 (9th Cir. Cal. Sept. 19, 2014) U.S.C.A. 9th, DAR p. 12983, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a high school failed to provide or expand equal participation to female athletes in accordance with Title IX.

Female student athletes at Castle Park High School and others filed a class action suit claiming gender discrimination. Students alleged the District failed to provide female student athletes equal treatment and benefits as compared to male athletes. They also alleged that female athletes did not receive an equal opportunity to participate in athletic programs due to the District’s “repeated, purposeful, differential treatment” of female students at the High School. The inequitable and disparate treatment was alleged in the following areas: (1) practice and competitive facilities; (2) locker rooms and related storage and meeting facilities; (3) training facilities; (4) equipment and supplies; (5) transportation vehicles; (6) coaches and coaching facilities; (7) scheduling of games and practice times; (8) publicity; (9) funding; and (10) athletic participation opportunities. In addition, it was alleged that the girls softball coach was fired in retaliation for filing the suit.

The federal district court granted declaratory and injunctive relief on the Title IX claims. The district court concluded that the District violated Title IX in nine different areas, including recruiting, training, equipment, scheduling, and fundraising. The district court also found that female athletes received unequal treatment and benefits as a result of “systematic administrative failures” at the High School, and that the District failed to implement “policies or procedures designed to cure the myriad areas of general noncompliance with Title IX.”

The District argued that injunctive relief should be based on contemporaneous evidence, not on evidence of past harm. The appellate court rejected this argument based upon the trial court’s broad powers to consider evidence presented at trial.

In addition, the District conceded that “female athletic participation” was lower than overall female enrollment, but argued that figures were substantially proportionate for Title IX compliance purposes. The District also promised to strive to lower the percentage. The district court ruled that it is the actual number and the low percentage of females participating in athletics that is controlling. The court also concluded that the District must demonstrate a continuing practice of program expansion as warranted by developing interest and abilities.

The district court granted declaratory and injunctive relief on the claim alleging retaliation. The court also concluded the District violated Title IX when it retaliated against student athletes by firing their softball coach. The district court decided that the student athletes had made out a prima facie case of retaliation: engagement in a protected activity, suffered adverse action, and a causal link between the two.

The United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, for Amicus Curiae United States of America, weighed in on behalf of student athletes urging summary judgment. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s rulings on appeal. This case did not consider attorney fees at this time.

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