The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a Title IX lawsuit from three former UC Davis female wrestlers on Monday.
The former undergraduates – Arezou Mansourian, Lauren Mancuso and Christine Wing-Si Ng – claimed the university violated a law meant to promote gender equality in college athletics when it eliminated the women’s wrestling program. Title IX requires schools receiving federal funds to offer equal athletic opportunities to both men and women.
The federal appellate court ruled Monday that the university’s failure to adequately provide equal opportunities for women in varsity sports caused the elimination of the team in the 2000-2001 academic year. The court turned aside the university’s argument that it had to cut from men’s programs during the same time.
The university maintains that it offers a fair athletics program to men and women.
“We have taken steps and we will continue to take steps towards gender equality in athletics,” said Campus Counsel Steve Drown. “We have one of the most exemplary women’s athletic programs in the country. These cases have been interesting developments.”
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the Sacramento trial court, reversing the lower court’s prior decision requiring female athletes to formally notify the university before filing a lawsuit. The appeals court removed this legal technicality.
Prior to the appeals court decision, a federal judge ruled in favor of the university based on evidence viewed most favorable to the plaintiffs. The appeals court will now look at all evidence available in the case.
Mansourian, Mancuso and Ng were undergraduates at the time they were placed on the varsity wrestling team, alongside the men’s team. They received the team benefits, including coaching, academic tutoring insurance and access to varsity facilities and equipment.
Following the elimination of UC Davis women’s wrestling in 2000, the group protested to administrators and filed a complaint at the Office for Civil Rights.
The students came to UC Davis following the women’s international rules for wrestling, and after their coach retired, they were permitted back on the team. However, their participation in the program then depended on their ability to beat male wrestlers in their weight class, according to men’s rules. They were then unable to participate and lost the benefits associated with being on the varsity team.
The students sued on denied equal athletic participation opportunities, seeking damages under Title IX. However, the judge ruled in April of 2008 that the plaintiffs did not adequately provide complaints with the university and dismissed the case.
At the summary judgment on Monday, the appeals court determined whether or not there is a dispute. Now, a jury will look at the evidence and decide whether or not the university violated Title IX.
“The circuit took a careful look at their evidence and they are concerned there are Title IX violations, and that’s not even the best evidence we have,” said Monique Olivier, managing attorney of the Sturdevant Law Firm. “There will be a fuller record at trials.”
POOJA KUMAR and LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.