UC Davis is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that its intercollegiate athletics program discriminates against women.
Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. certified Brust et al. v. Regents of the University of California as a class-action lawsuit on Oct. 24. The suit claims that the university is not in compliance with Title IX, a federal law enacted in 1972 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program receiving federal funds.
The suit seeks several remedies, including a declaration that UC Davis has violated and continues to violate Title IX, a halt to sex discrimination in the administration of university athletic programs and an increase in varsity athletic opportunities and financial assistance for female athletes.
Two club field hockey players and one club rugby player filed the suit in July 2007. All are current UC Davis students: Kelsey Brust is a junior and Jessica Bulala and Laura Ludwig are seniors.
In the suit, Brust and Bulala stated that they have sought varsity status for field hockey on several occasions. Ludwig believes rugby is similarly qualified for varsity status.
In July, the university approved women’s field hockey for varsity status and the team will begin competing at the ICA level next fall. But that is not enough, the plaintiffs‘ attorneys say.
“[UC Davis‘] argument that they are continuing to expand women’s teams is too little, too late,” said Monique Olivier, an attorney for Sturdevant, a law firm representing the plaintiffs. Equal Rights Advocates is also providing counsel to the plaintiffs.
Since the suit is now certified as class action, it includes all current, prospective and future female students who wish to participate in or are deterred from participating in intercollegiate athletics at UC Davis.
A school can qualify for Title IX compliance under any of three criteria, or “prongs“: There are athletic opportunities substantially proportionate to student enrollment, a demonstration of continuous expansion of athletic opportunities for women or accommodation to sufficient interest and ability of students who can sustain a viable team.
Nancy Sheehan, the attorney for UC Davis, said the university has a “history and practice” of expansion of opportunities for women.
The university has added six women’s varsity sports since 1996: lacrosse, rowing, water polo, indoor track and field, golf, and field hockey. There are currently 14 women’s varsity sports and 12 men’s varsity sports at UC Davis. Universities have an average of 8.4 women’s varsity sports, according to a UC Davis fact sheet.
Sheehan said the university has a committee to ensure Title IX compliance and has examined the issue thoroughly as part of its transition to Division I.
“UC Davis has a whole process and procedure of making an assessment every couple of years,” she said. “It has a strong Title IX workgroup presence, and in order for the campus to go through NCAA Division I certification, it had to go through a very, very detailed assessment of its gender equity program.”
But Olivier said UC Davis only added women’s golf and hockey as a result of pending litigation.
“Our position is that even with those teams, they don’t meet the legal test under the law for legal expansion. The addition of those teams should be looked at with a critical eye,” she said.
The plaintiffs allege that the university should be fielding at least four more varsity teams to be in compliance with the substantial proportionality prong of Title IX.
In 2007-2008, 43.8 percent of UC Davis undergraduates were male and 56.2 percent female. However, 48.12 percent of varsity athletes were male and 51.88 percent female. Since UC Davis has over 23,000 undergraduates, the 4.32 percent difference translates to about 80-100 more varsity slots for women, said Whitney Huston, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Huston said that while Title IX does not have an exact percentage window for compliance, “five percent at one school with 12,000 enrolled is very different at a school with 100 people enrolled.“
“There are 80 to 100 slots for women they would need to add in order to meet proportionality – enough to field four or five varsity teams,” Huston said.
But Sheehan said the proportionality argument is irrelevant because the university already meets the continuous expansion prong of the test.
“You only have to show compliance under one prong. The university is striving for prong one compliance, but it is has complied with prong two in the interim,” she said.
The plaintiffs also claim that UC Davis pads the women’s varsity sports rosters with extra athletes to be closer to prong one compliance.
Lisa Leebove, an attorney for Equal Rights Advocates, said UC Davis has a total of over eighty extra women on its rosters as compared to NCAA Division I team averages.
“It’s really a question about not so much the number of teams but also the number of women who have an opportunity to meaningfully participate,” Leebove said.
But that allegation is false, Sheehan said.
“The very adamant answer from [UC Davis Athletic Director] Greg Warzecka is that he’s never directed coaches of women’s teams to increase their roster,” she said.
The Brust suit is not the first Title IX case the university has faced. Four women who believe UC Davis does not adequately provide opportunities for female wrestlers filed a suit in 2003. Last April, Damrell ruled that the plaintiffs in Mansourian et al. v. Regents of the University of California failed to notify UC Davis that they were making broad allegations about the athletic program and dismissed the suit. The plaintiffs, also represented by Equal Rights Advocates and Sturdevant, are currently appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit.
Sheehan said she plans to file a motion for summary judgment in the Brust case. If the motion were to be granted, that would mean the judge would have dismissed the case after reviewing the facts. Sheehan estimates the ruling on summary judgment will take several months.
If the motion for summary judgment is not granted, the case will go to trial in October 2009.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at email@example.com.