SAN DIEGO (CN) - A Chula Vista high school discriminated by giving preferential treatment to the boys' sports program, a federal judge ruled.
In 2007, five girls who played softball at Castle Park High School filed a class action against the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calif., claiming that boys there received more opportunities to play sports even though girls showed an equal amount of interest. They also claimed that the district fired the girls' softball coach to retaliation against their demands for equal treatment.
Under the federal law known as Title IX, schools cannot sustain sex-based inequalities in any program or activity offered on campus. To determine if a school is complying with Title IX, boys' and girls' programs are compared according to several factors, including access to equipment, quality coaching and game scheduling.
The court quickly found that the evidence revealed Title IX violations based on unequal participation opportunities in athletic program, but the remaining claims of unequal treatment and retaliation went on to trial in 2010.
Last week, U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz ordered an injunction because the school has not done enough to correct "long-standing and continuing overall violations of Title IX with respect to the treatment and benefits accorded female athletes compared to male athletes."
Among several instances of discriminatory practices, Lorenz found that boys' teams were given "superior" locker rooms that were larger and nearer to the playing fields compared to the girls' teams, which were given only "adequate" facilities with less space.
Instead of being able to stow their equipment in the locker rooms, female athletes had to carry athletic gear throughout the school day. They also could not use their own locker rooms when the football team had home games, since the space was set aside for the competing high schools.
Similar quality disparities existed between the boys' baseball field and the girls' softball field.
"At CPHS, maintenance of the softball facility was particularly problematic because of the lack of perimeter fencing, the use of the field by physical education classes for kickball, softball and soccer, and use by the girls' field hockey and soccer programs," Lorenz wrote. "In contrast, the boys' baseball field was not used for physical education classes or for any other uses."
The court also found that the "athletic director did not provide any oversight for gender equity in the provision of equipment, supplies and uniforms to ensure that male and female athletes were provided with the same benefits."
Scheduled games and practices reflected one of the most apparent examples of inequality. Rather than alternating the play schedules on a weekly basis, boys' basketball games always occurred during "premium game times" on Friday evenings at a later time than the girls' games.
Though the school partly addressed this issue in 2010, the changes did not ensure that girls and boys received equal access to prime after-school practice times.
"CPHS failed to provide a system for Title IX implementation and compliance," Lorenz wrote. This responsibility instead rests with the coaches, who more often than not did nothing to ensure equal treatment of boys' and girls' teams.
Lorenz also found evidence of retaliation in the firing of the softball team's longtime coach, Chris Martinez. Martinez was fired in 2006, six weeks after he and a softball player's father reported Title IX concerns to athletic director Russell Moore. Though the school tried to defend Martinez's termination on the grounds that he was a walk-on, rather than certified, coach, the court determined that "it no longer matters whether a coach is certified or not" once that person is employed by the school district.
Lorenz reprimanded the school for retaliating against Martinez, and went on to stress the risk of creating unequal environment between male and female student athletes.
"Female athletes and potential athletes have been denied the opportunity to participate in high school sports on an equal level with the male students at their school," the judge wrote. "When inequalities are not addressed and corrected, female athletes, prospective students, faculty and the community at large, are told athletics for girls are not as important as boys."
Linda Barker of the California Women's Law Center, an attorney for the plaintiffs, applauded the judge's ruling. "This ruling is significant because it sends the message to high schools to start taking Title IX seriously," she said. "Most Title IX cases and decisions focus on colleges, so a lot of high school districts have started sliding and are not paying attention to whether or not they are complying with the law.
"Participating in sports programs gives girls so many opportunities, and there's no reason that the boys should be treated as more important than the girls," she added. "We're hopeful that this ruling will encourage school districts to stop and really look at their programs, and make sure that they are being fair and treating everyone equally."
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