Update: Sweetwater loses appeal. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal found that Sweetwater Union fired a coach for demanding that Title IX federal law be obeyed. The law requires equal access for girls to athletics.
(This article is being republished after editing. It was originally published in 2009.)
Presentation: “Litigation in Schools Involving Athletics”
Stutz law firm partner Daniel Shinoff presented “Litigation in Schools Involving Athletics” at the California Council of School Attorneys Workshop, held at the San Diego Marriott on December 1, 2011. The County Counsel Association helped arrange the presentation, which met State Bar of California requirements for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) for attendees.
Sweetwater will appeal ruling
Allison K. Sampité
Chula Vista Star-News
Feb 18 2012
A recent Title IX ruling by a San Diego District Court judge against the Sweetwater Union High School District for gender-based disparities in sports at Castle Park High will be appealed, according to the district's attorney.
Daniel Shinoff, who has represented the district for approximately 30 years, says the grounds for appeal include no actual violation and the fact that all inequities have since been corrected.
In his ruling last week, Judge James M. Lorenz said the district violated female students’ rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the United States Constitution because its sports program unfairly favored boys’ sports over girls’ sports.
The decision was made in the 2007 case of Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School, et al, and was prosecuted by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, California Women’s Law Center and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.
“I am disappointed because I think that the court really didn’t take into consideration all of the efforts that were made by the district to improve the facilities,” Shinoff said. “The issue became moot.”
The female student athletes who attended Castle Park High School sued for injunctive and declaratory relief under Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in education and athletic programs for present and future female student athletes.
District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand released a statement last week in response to the ruling saying, “The standard for which girls’ sports facilities outlined in this ruling is not applicable to high school sports — it aligns with university-level sports.”
Since the case was filed, Brand said that the improvements at Castle Park have become the standard for softball field upgrades throughout the district.
Plaintiff’s attorney Erin Witkow said she’s “thrilled” with the judge’s ruling.
“They (the plaintiffs) fought very hard…” Witkow said. “I hope this case will serve as a wake-up call to the school district that equal treatment is a right and not a luxury.”
Witkow said the victory has a big impact (in case law) because it’s one of the few cases that found Title IX violations in a high school setting.
The trial, which Witkow said is the first of its kind, occurred in 2010 after Lorenz issued a partial summary judgment for the plaintiffs a year before, ruling against the district for unequal treatment and benefits and retaliation.
“It’s a complicated issue because a lot of time high school students don’t have the ability to bring these types of cases and that a lot of times, high schools think they can get away with this … but Title IX applies across the board with all levels of education,” Witkow said.
California Women’s Law Center Legal Director Vicky Barker said the district needs to realize they should comply with Title IX on their own, without others getting involved.
The judge ordered the plaintiffs to come back in 45 days with a proposed plan to remedy the injunction.
Thirty-two-year Sweetwater district softball and wrestling coach Tim Tyler said he is unhappy with the ruling.
“I’m a Title IX advocate,” Tim Tyler said. “But I fully disagree that the district has ever prevented a female from going out for a sports team.”
Tyler has daughters who play sports.
“We at Sweetwater have always given girls and boys equal sports participation,” he said.
Hilltop High School Athletic Director Nancy Acerrio, who said she is pleased with the ruling, also said it’s the district’s responsibility to maintain the fields.
“It’s (the ruling) an eye-opener for the community,” Acerrio said. “I’m glad this was brought to the attention of the district and the public. It’s been long overdue and many people will benefit from it.”