LOS ANGELES (CN) - Pepperdine University must answer claims brought by two female basketball players who say coaches harassed them about their sexual orientation in violation of Title IX rules, a federal judge ruled.
Haley Videckis and Layana White sued Ryan Weisenberg, also known as Coach Ryan, and Pepperdine University for violating their civil right to privacy, as well as violations of California education code and Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 - which prohibits discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.
Although Pepperdine University maintains ties to the Churches of Christ, Videckis and White say in their complaint that the university is willing to admit lesbian students but states it will expel them if the students engage in the sin of premarital sex.
The students say Weisenberg - head coach of the Pepperdine women's basketball team - repeatedly badgered them with questions about their sexuality and eventually told the team that "lesbianism is a big concern in women's basketball and is not tolerated on this team."
Eventually, the harassment - and threats to pull the women's scholarships - became so severe that White attempted suicide in September 2014. Weisenberg barred both women from playing basketball and no one within the university would help get them reinstated, according to the women's complaint.
Pepperdine's request to dismiss the student's Title IX discrimination claim was granted earlier this year after it was determined that Title IX did not include sexual orientation discrimination.
In making that determination U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson wrote, "However, the court notes that the line between discrimination based on gender stereotyping and discrimination based on sexual orientation is blurry, at best, and thus a claim that plaintiffs were discriminated against on the basis of their relationship and their sexual orientation may fall within the bounds of Title IX."
Pepperdine then requested to dismiss the Title IX deliberate indifference, intentional discrimination, and retaliation for reporting discrimination actions in the students' third amended complaint.
The school argued that the women have not shown that Title IX applies to sexual orientation or gender-stereotyping discrimination or that they suffered from retaliation.
But in a ruling issued Dec. 15, Pregerson noted that the distinction between sexual orientation and sex or gender discrimination is "illusory and artificial" and cannot be considered independent under Title IX since "that line does not exist, save a lingering and faulty judicial construct."
He added, "A plaintiff's actual sexual orientation is irrelevant to a Title IX claim given that sexuality cannot be defined on a homosexual or heterosexual basis; it exists on a continuum. It is not the victim of discrimination who should be forced to put his or her sexual orientation on trial."
After making the clarification, Pregerson found the students had provided ample evidence that they were discriminated against when they refused to conform to the school's views on what is acceptable female behavior - which included being told "lesbianism" would not be tolerated.
"If plaintiffs had been males dating females, instead of females dating females, they would not have been subjected to the alleged different treatment," Pregerson wrote.
He also found Pepperdine's attempt to shift the focus to the victims - by arguing that it cannot be held liable for retaliation for kicking the students off the basketball team and taking away their scholarships since the students hid their relationship - was not rational.
As part of the ongoing harassment, the students say they were subjected to intrusive questioning about their relationship, including where they slept and if they pushed their beds together, by both the coaching staff and school officials.
The students are not required to disclose their relationship in order to prevent harassment, the judge wrote.
Neither side responded to emailed requests for comment by press time.
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