Gender Bias, Set, Match in Tennis Officiating
(CN) - The U.S. Tennis Association effectively fired a female referee for complaining that men usually officiate the higher-ranked matches, the woman claims in court.
Umpire and referee Laura Mattson sued the U.S. Tennis Association - Pacific Northwest Section (USTA), and two of its employees, Perry Hines and Dennis Kviz, in Multnomah County, Ore.
The USTA is the governing body for tennis events in the country and arranges for the officiating of all USTA-certified tennis events.
Despite having a written policy forbidding gender discrimination when assigning officials for tournaments, the USTA "has a clandestine policy of discriminating against female Umpires and Referees," according to Mattson's complaint.
Mattson says she became a referee with the USTA in 2011 and is one of the few women in the Portland area certified by the USTA to work as a referee. Her title as a referee meant she was responsible for entire tennis events, at which she would oversee all of the individual umpires, the complaint states.
As assignor of officials for USTA, Hines is allegedly responsible for selecting the umpires and referees for USTA events in Northern Oregon and Southern Washington.
Mattson says that she noticed that female officials were rarely assigned to tournaments involving matches between more skilled male players, whereas male officials were routinely selected for tournaments involving both female and male players of higher skill levels.
"For example, plaintiff was selected to officiate at several high school state finals tournaments," the complaint states. "Throughout the tournaments, plaintiff was assigned to umpire matches between lower division women players. In contrast, less qualified male officials were selected over plaintiff to umpire matches between higher division male and female players."
Mattson says she complained about the discrimination against female officials, and that Hines then "blatantly admitted" to selecting male officials over female officials for certain tournaments.
"Hines then tried to justify his discriminatory practices as a method of keeping players happy and their complaints to a minimum," the complaint states. "Hines explained that male players in certain age groups often complaint about female officials being assigned to their games and specifically request men to be assigned to their games. The USTA's policy of favoring male officials was allegedly an attempt to please the players and avoid these complaint."
Unsatisfied with this explanation, Mattson continued to complain about the discrimination, leading Hines to start "a campaign of retaliation to get rid of her," according to the lawsuit.
Mattson said she had been the victim of a domestic violent incident the night before a tournament, causing her to arrive slightly late but well before any matches had started.
Though Mattson was allegedly berated for not arriving earlier, her male counterparts were not chastised for being late, she says.
Mattson said another time Hines falsely accused her of not showing up to a tennis event that she did indeed attend. Mattson was also criticized for wearing pants to an event with "too many pockets," even though at least one other male umpire was wearing six-pocket pants, according to the complaint.
"Hines continued to reprimand plaintiff for minor infractions that were ignored when committed by similarly situated male employees," Mattson claims. "Plaintiff continued to put up with the discriminatory behavior out of fear of losing what she loved to do."
Things allegedly came to a head after a male coach for the University of Portland got upset at a call Mattson made while serving as an umpire on Feb. 5, 2012.
Hines called Mattson in for a meeting to discuss the ruling, during which he "was very hostile toward plaintiff and called plaintiff a 'liar,'" according to the complaint. "Hines seemed overly concerned about the heat he was receiving from the University of Portland coach."
Mattson defended the call and refused to sign a performance review that criticized her for the disputed call and said she had difficulty reporting to matches on time, she says.
Hines subsequently removed Mattson from several assignments, allegedly telling her that he had lost confidence in her. Mattson was removed from all of her remaining men's tournament assignments at Portland State University, as well as an event with both male and female matches because Hines "claimed 'it may be difficult to keep [Mattson] off the men's match,'" according to the complaint.
Kviz, the USTA chair of the officials committee, then suspended Mattson for six months, accusing her of having failed to provide a detailed account of the Feb. 5 incident.
"Plaintiff was devastated and reached out to a few officials for their input," the complaint states. "Plaintiff was advised to lay low and let it go as she was against a powerful 'good old boys' network."
Even after her suspension had been completed, Mattson was not assigned to any events, was not notified of training opportunities, and was not allowed to have her certifications reinstated on the USTA website, according to the complaint.
Mattson "reasonably estimates that she was denied access to 95 percent of the USTA events for the 2012-2013 season," the action states. "Hines did not assign plaintiff for a single event until on or about August 15, 2013."
Calling herself a whistle-blower, Mattson seeks damages and an injunction for gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge.
She is represented by Mitra Shahri with the Mitra Law Group.
Neither the association nor Kviz returned a request for comment. Contact information for Hines could not be found.