Title IX violations at Mesa College confirmed

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday September 24, 2008
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Time will tell whether a finding this month by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights that San Diego Mesa College was in violation of Title IX will help bolster a lawsuit by a lesbian couple against the college. What it has already accomplished has been an agreement by the college with OCR to address the sports inequities confirmed by the civil rights office.

In a letter to Mesa College, the OCR said the school was guilty of inequities "with respect to the scheduling of games, the provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, and the provision of medical and training facilities."

The OCR investigation was triggered by a complaint filed in July by Lorri Sulpizio, former Mesa head basketball coach, and her domestic partner Cathy Bass, former director of basketball operations, after their jobs were terminated.

Among the specific violations OCR confirmed were that the women's basketball team was not allowed to use the locker room when a visiting football team was in town, that only female athletes were shortchanged in such scheduling conflicts, that the softball team was affected by having to share its field with the men's and women's soccer teams, and that Mesa's policies on access to sports trainers "has a disparate, negative impact on female athletes."

"These disparities were more than negligible and collectively established a violation of Title IX," the OCR reported.

 Mesa College has agreed to make improvements to the playing field shared by softball and soccer, to hire a part-time trainer, and to eliminate non-conference games that created schedule conflicts for the locker rooms. OCR is to monitor these remedies.

But the OCR investigation did not find merit in other charges by Sulpizio and Bass that the school provided inadequate equipment, supplies, coaching opportunities, coaching compensation, or support services.

"This represents a vindication that Mesa College treats women fairly," Richard Dittbenner, director of public information and government relations for the San Diego Community College District, told the Associated Press.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sulpizio and Bass in July against Mesa College, said the OCR's confirmation of Title IX violations helps their case. The lawsuit alleges that the women had been unlawfully fired because they spoke out about the unequal treatment of female athletes and women coaches following publication in a local paper of a news article identifying them as domestic partners.

"The finding just substantiates what they had claimed," NCLR sport project director Helen Carroll told the Bay Area Reporter. "All and all, it just strengthens our case. The fact that [the violations] weren't solved while they were there made everything difficult for them to do their jobs."

Carroll said attorneys for both sides are currently in the discovery phase before the case makes it to trial in San Diego. NCLR was joined by attorneys at Boxer & Gerson, LLP and Stock Stephens, LLP.

The Mesa mess is just one in a series of cases that colleges and universities in California and elsewhere have been facing over charges of gender and orientation-perception discrimination. Fresno State has a long and costly record of sex discrimination in sports lawsuits [see Jock Talk, Dec. 13, 2007] that led the Lambda Letters Project to call for the resignation of that university's president John Welty.

In a story this spring, USA Today reported that since January 2007, "plaintiffs against California-Berkeley, California-Davis and Sonoma State have combined to rack up more than $4.5 million through jury awards or settlement. That includes $3.5 million to ex-Cal women's swimming coach and athletics administrator Karen Moe Humphreys, who filed a discrimination and retaliation suit after being laid off in 2004. She claimed she was laid off because she complained about treatment of women in the athletics department."

USA Today tracked 13 complaints, lawsuits, or pending appeals that involved four suits at three junior colleges (Feather River College, Cabrillo College, and the lawsuit by Sulpizio and Bass against Mesa), USC (a complaint that has been pending for roughly a decade), and pending cases or complaints against San Diego State, UC-Northridge and UC-Davis.

Now, much of this is reflective of the litigious nature of our society, and much is to be credited to a more aggressive prosecution of violations.

But ultimately it is the reflection of the failure of institutions to embrace the spirit of Title IX and to make budgetary and personnel decisions that are in the best interests of maximum sports competition and coaching opportunities for all. [See Jock Talk, Nov. 29, 2007.] Until the institutions collectively wake up to their failures, we can expect to see more lawsuits, more coaching rancor, and continued elimination of individual sports.

Not what Title IX was intended to do.

Oakland Banshees film screens

Speaking of women's sports: the Banshees, Oakland's professional women's tackle football franchise, will be showcased in an entry in the Berkeley Video & Film Festival this weekend. Kenya E. Davis' 35-minute documentary Hit, Run & Score: The Oakland Banshees Story , will screen Sunday at 3:59 p.m. at Shattuck Cinema (2230 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley). Continuous daylong screenings of festival entries begin at 1 p.m.; general admission tickets are $13.

Last spring the Banshees (www.oaklandbanshees.com) moved up from the six-player division for the last four games of the Independent Women's Football League (www.iwflsports.com) schedule to play in the 11-player division. The team went 0-4, being outscored 8-69. Veteran retirements caused Oakland to drop down from the 11-player level in 2006 while it rebuilt its roster.

"This is really a success story for everyone involved," IWFL Chief Operating Officer Kezia Disney said when the Banshees rejoined the higher division. "By keeping the opportunity to play football in Oakland available through 2006 and 2007, the Banshees have been able to rebuild the team with some very dedicated new players. This is exactly how the multi-tier system was designed to work."

Information on the festival is at www.berkeleyvideofilmfest.org.

Matthew Mitcham gets his own stamp

No Wheaties box yet, but...

Rumors are swirling in Aussieland that gay diver Matthew Mitcham, who dazzled the world last month in Beijing with the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history on the platform to win a gold medal and prevent a clean sweep by host China, will be signing a sponsorship deal with swimwear manufacturer aussieBum. SameSame.com.au reported this week that Mitcham is close to a deal with aussieBum founder Sean Ashby, who said, "We were fortunate enough to meet Matthew prior to competing in the Beijing Olympics. Everyone in the company watched Matthew dive. To witness this man winning gold was a moment we will talk about with great pride � an Australian who chose to believe in himself."

Mitcham recently signed a representation deal with Grand Slam International, and earlier this month Australia issued a stamp with Mitcham's picture as part of a series of stamps commemorating its athletes' achievements in the Olympics.

Sports briefs

Outgames announces budget housing

Organizers of the 2009 World Outgames, hoping to address the sticker shock of housing for participants traveling to Copenhagen for the games, have announced limited budget housing for registrants.

The rate of 2,150 Danish crowns (roughly $409 U.S.) per person for 10 nights is for non-smoking four-to-a room housing in centrally located schools and other public buildings that will be converted to dormitories with luggage storage. The offer is good for stays beginning July 4 and leaving August 3; it is a fixed price and extensions are not available.

Information on Outgames registration and housing is available at www.copenhagen2009.org.