While it’s been a banner year for girls and women in sports – the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup, Serena Williams was named Sportsperson of the Year, Kathryn Smith became the first woman full-time NFL coach, and more – there is still work to be done to ensure that young women across the country have the opportunity to experience and benefit from sports participation.
For the past two years, ERA has been honored to represent members of the University of California at Berkeley Women’s Field Hockey team in their pursuit of equitable treatment. In 2014, UC Berkeley revoked the team’s on-campus practice and competition field privileges to construct a practice field for men’s football and lacrosse. Promises to quickly provide them with a new on-campus field were delayed and broken. This forced the top-ranked team to make 3-hour round-trip drives to Stanford for all practices and competitions in the 2014 season. They continued to travel for practice and competition every week in the Spring and Fall of 2015, logging dozens of hours and many hundreds of miles on a bus when they could have been studying or engaged in other campus activities.
The members of the team felt betrayed by their university, which promises student-athletes the chance to compete at the highest levels and access to “first-rate facilities” to help ensure their success. When players came to ERA for help, we concluded that UC Berkeley’s failure to make good on those promises for Women’s Field Hockey not only caused hardship for the team on the field and off; it violated Title IX.
After ERA filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights on behalf of the players, the University agreed to sit down and talk. Today, after months of negotiations, we are proud to announce that the women will begin practicing on their new, on-campus field on February 17th. As part of the settlement reached with the University, the women will have ongoing input as the remaining on-campus facilities are completed in time for competition this fall. ERA’s clients also will receive monetary relief for the academic harm they suffered as a result of not having on-campus facilities.
This is an important step for the University in fulfilling its promise to these women — and the entire community — to uphold their duty under Title IX to provide equal access to education, including sports.
We can’t wait to see what great moments this year will bring for women and girls in sports, and what the UC Berkeley Women’s Field Hockey team will accomplish in their 2016 season.