Court Finds Sweetwater Union High School District Failed to Correct Title IX Violations – Contempt Finding Possible

Contact: 
Vicky Barker
Legal Director
California Women’s Law Center
323-951-9276
vicky.barker@cwlc.org
Sara Feldman
Communications Manager
Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
617-276-5632
sfeldman@las-elc.org
March 28, 2014
San Diego, CA

U.S. District Court Judge M. James Lorenz found the Sweetwater Union High School District (“District”) failed to comply with a 2012 injunction ordering the District to bring the Castle Park High School athletic program into compliance with Title IX.  The court further ordered the District to explain to the court why it should not be held in contempt.

“It is beyond dispute that the District is not in compliance with Title IX concerning equal participation opportunities for girls,” states Judge Lorenz in the order. He further finds that “a recurrent and disturbing theme is obvious … the [District’s] lack of verifiable documentation of compliance or even attempted compliance with the requirements for Title IX equitable treatment and benefits.”

The order comes out of the class action lawsuit, Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School, et al., which was filed in 2007 by the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, the California Women’s Law Center, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. The student plaintiffs sued for injunctive relief under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which bars sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs.  In 2009, the Court found the District violated Title IX by failing to provide girls with equal athletic participation opportunities at Castle Park High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District. 

In February 2012, after a bench trial, Judge Lorenz ruled that the District also unfairly favored boys’ sports over girls’ sports at Castle Park by providing boys better athletic facilities, superior resources and more opportunities to play sports.  Further, the Court found that the District had retaliated against the girls when concerns were raised about Title IX violations by, among other things, terminating the well-liked softball coach.    

After the trial, Judge Lorenz ordered the creation of a compliance plan to be followed by the school district. Before the compliance plan was finalized, the District appealed. During the pendency of the appeal, the District made some facilities improvements but glaring inequalities remain for girls at Castle Park and some conditions have actually worsened. For example, the school still has a significant gap in girls’ athletic participation, as evidenced by the 98 girls who were not able to participate in athletics in 2012-2013 due to a lack of opportunity. In 2007-2008, that number was 47.

“The District’s failure to end the on-going discrimination against girls in the Castle Park High School athletic program is appalling,” said Vicky Barker, Legal Director of the California Women’s Law Center. “The District has known about these Title IX violations since at least 2006 and has refused to solve the problem and follow the law. It’s time for this District, and school districts throughout California, to comply with Title IX.”

“It is unacceptable that the Sweetwater Union School District continues to flout both the letter and spirit of such an important law,” said Elizabeth Kristen, Director of the Gender Equity and LGBT Rights Program at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. “The skills that young women gain from sports participation, including teamwork, leadership, and discipline, are crucial to their later success in higher education and employment.”

“So much is at stake for the female athletes at Castle Park High School and every new class that enters is subjected to this injustice. I hope the school will act swiftly to provide girls with the equal treatment that they deserve,” said John Libby, litigation partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

The outcome of this is case has major implications for girls throughout the country who could be benefitting from sports but are denied equal opportunities.  An appeal for this case will be argued before the Ninth Circuit Court in Pasadena on June 3rd.   

About the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center protects the rights and economic self-sufficiency of low-income workers and their families throughout the Bay Area, California, and nationwide. Within LAS-ELC, Fair Play for Girls in Sports aims to ensure that girls in grades K-12 participate equally in school and community sports so they may reap the lifelong rewards of athletic involvement. For more information, visit www.las-elc.org

About the California Women’s Law Center
Since its founding in 1989, the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC) has worked to eliminate the barriers that keep women and girls in poverty. CWLC advances systemic reforms through gender discrimination, health, violence against women, and reproductive justice initiatives, ensuring that life opportunities for women and girls are free from unjust social, economic, and political constraints. CWLC is a leader in Title IX education and enforcement in California at the high school level. For more information, visit www.cwlc.org

About Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, is one of the nation’s leading law firms with offices located in California (Los Angeles, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Sacramento), New York (New York City and Albany) and Washington, D.C. The firm represents a sophisticated client base, including Fortune 500, middle-market and emerging companies, across a range of practice areas and industry sectors. Manatt professionals and staff are actively involved in the firm’s pro bono representations. The firm annually devotes at least 3% of billable time and resources to hundreds of not-for-profit organizations and individuals unable to pay significant legal fees. For more information, visit www.manatt.com.