(CN) - The University of California, Davis may have discriminated against female wrestlers by barring them from the team unless they proved they could "compete against men under men's rules," the 9th Circuit ruled.
The court reinstated a Title IX lawsuit against the university, filed by three women who wrestled in high school and said they chose to go to UC Davis for its acclaimed wrestling program. They were allegedly eliminated from the university's unisex team in 2000.
The school disputes the "very existence of a women's varsity wrestling program" and insists the women were merely allowed to practice with the wresting team and gain some of the perks provided to varsity wrestlers, including coaching, training, laundry services and use of varsity facilities, the ruling states.
After the women protested to school administrators and filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, UC Davis agreed to let them participate on the condition that they were capable of beating male wrestlers in their weight class, using men's collegiate wrestling rules.
The female wrestlers were unable to participate because of the new guidelines and lost their varsity benefits, scholarships and academic credit.
U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell ruled that a federally funded university can't be held liable for failing to accommodate the women, unless they first notified university officials of their "disadvantageous treatment" and gave the university the chance to fix it.
Damrell also dismissed the women's equal protection claim.
The plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit, re-asserting their claim that UC Davis' actions violated Title IX, which protects the expansion of athletics for women in schools and universities.
The three-judge panel in San Francisco reversed, ruling that UC Davis discriminated against the women by denying them an equal right to wrestle based on their gender.
The court noted that the university has not made efforts to expand its female varsity athletics program since at least 2000.
"A university's ongoing and intentional failure to provide equal athletic opportunities for women is a systematic violation," Judge Marsh Berzon wrote.
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