A panel of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges reinstated a Title IX lawsuit yesterday against the University of California, Davis. The suit was originally filed in 2003 by three female wrestlers after they were forced to compete against men in the same weight class starting after the 2000-2001 academic year.
The case was originally thrown out on legal grounds by US District Judge Frank Damrell Jr., who found that athletes are not entitled to financial damages if the university is not given notice of the athlete's intent to sue or opportunity to remedy potential Title IX violations, according to the Sacramento Bee.
In the appeals court opinion, the judges found that Davis did not need notice of its own decisions regarding changes to women's wrestling and should have been regularly assessing its own Title IX compliance and reporting to the US Department of Education. The judges ruled that Davis' actions and policies in women's athletics requires jury review. They wrote that since the incident with women's wrestling, "the number of women playing intercollegiate athletics [at Davis] dropped sharply...Meanwhile, in the 10 years since UCD last added a significant number of female varsity slots, the number of female students at UCD grew by 35 percent." Spokespeople for Davis assert that the school is in compliance with Title IX.
Noreen Farrell, a lawyer representing the athletes, told Capital Public Radio that "what happened was the university required them to have wrestle-offs, so compete against young men in their weight-class in order to have a slot on the team. And so in the course of trying to compete against men for slots on the team of course they were eliminated. They couldn't compete against men." According to Court House News, the women athletes then lost their scholarships, academic credits, and varsity benefits.
Former Davis wrestling coach Michael Burch was awarded a $725,000 settlement in 2007 after he alleged that Davis failed to renew his contract in retaliation for speaking out when the women's wrestling team was cut. A 2005 US Supreme Court ruling in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education found that those who are the victims of retaliation for drawing attention to Title IX violations can sue under Title IX.
Title IX is the landmark federal legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs, including athletics.
Media Resources: Feminist Daily News 1/24/07; Court House News 2/8/10; Capital Public Radio 2/8/10; Sacramento Bee 2/9/10