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Title IX class action lawsuit ruling against California school district upheld on appeal

Posted On: Sep. 19, 2014 12:00 AM CST

Title IX class action lawsuit ruling against California school district upheld on appeal

A federal appellate court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling in favor of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of female high school athletes in a Chula Vista, California-based school district charging violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education.

In a ruling in Veronica Ollier et al. v. Sweetwater Union High School District et al., a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco also upheld the lower court ruling that the school district had engaged in unlawful retaliation under Title IX when it fired its girls' softball coach.

It upheld the district court's granting of injunctive relief on both issues.

In litigation first filed in April 2007, the U.S. District Court in Pasadena, California, concluded Sweetwater violated Title IX by failing to provide equal treatment and benefits to female athletes at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista in nine different areas, including recruiting, training, equipment, scheduling and fundraising, according to the ruling.

In its March 2009 ruling, the District Court also found that female students “were supervised by overworked coaches, provided with inferior competition and practice facilities, and received less publicity than male athletes.”

“We conclude that Sweetwater has not fully and effectively accommodated the interests and abilities of its female athletes,” said the appellate panel, in affirming the lower court ruling.

The appellate court also agreed with the District Court that the school district had engaged in retaliation in firing the girls' softball coach, Chris Martinez, after the father of two of the named plaintiffs complained to school administrators about inequalities for girls in the school's athletic programs.

The school district found that Mr. Martinez was fired six weeks after the school's athletic director told him “he could be fired at any time for any reason — a comment the coach understood to be a threat he would be fired” if more complaints were made about the girls' softball facilities, said the ruling.

“Coach Martinez gave softball players extra practice time and individualized attention, persuaded volunteer coaches to help with specialized skills, and arranged for the team to play in tournaments attended by college recruiters. The softball team was stronger with Coach Martinez than without him,” said the ruling.

“Plaintiffs have alleged judicially cognizable injuries flowing from Sweetwater's retaliatory responses to Title IX complaints made by their parents and Coach Martinez,” said the panel, in affirming the lower court's ruling.