Fighting for Women's Equality

Parties Announce Settlement of U.C. Davis Title IX Athletics Discrimination Suit Brought by Former Students

February 16, 2012 | by

The University of California and former UC Davis students and women wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso announced today that they have reached an agreement to settle the issues remaining after the findings made by a federal judge last August in the liability phase of trial in the case.

The court found that the University violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 by not expanding intercollegiate athletic opportunities for female students at UC Davis between 1998 and 2005, the years that plaintiffs were in attendance. The court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim against four University employees (all now retired), holding that they did not violate the Equal Protection Clause or were entitled to qualified immunity in their handling of plaintiffs’ requests relating to women’s wrestling.

The damages phase of the trial on the Title IX claim was scheduled to start on March 5, 2012. The parties chose instead to resolve all remaining issues, including any possible appeals, with payment by the University of $1,350,000 to plaintiffs’ counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the lengthy case. “

This settlement is the final chapter in a precedent setting Title IX case brought by three brave young women who were denied the opportunity to play college sports, but through their determination and fighting spirit paved the way for the women who are playing sports at the University of California and other institutions today,” stated Plaintiffs’ counsel Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates. Plaintiffs were also represented by the Sturdevant Law Firm, Equity Legal, and Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier LLP, with support from the American Association of University Women.

“We are saddened that the University chose to spend millions to defend and settle this case rather than give our clients a chance to wrestle. But this case ensures that UC Davis will provide equal athletic opportunities in intercollegiate sports as Title IX requires,” added Jim Sturdevant.

Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng and Lauren Mancuso were dedicated wrestlers and still students when they filed suit in 2003 demanding that UC Davis provide female students an equal opportunity to play intercollegiate varsity sports. All three were pioneers in a male-dominated sport. Mansourian placed at North Coast sectionals in high school. Ng was a high school team captain. Mancuso was a nationally ranked high school champion. Each was recruited to come to wrestle at Davis but then cut from the program after the University refused to continue the contract of a supportive coach.

As noted by Mansourian: “I have fought for women’s rights in college athletics for the past 10 years and the change it has brought for the future of women athletes has been worth the battle.” While the case continued long after the graduation of these Plaintiffs, they racked up a series of victories for Title IX, including:

Landmark Ninth Circuit Win Removes Hurdles To Title IX Suits In May 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal weighed in on the Mansourian case on an appeal from an order granting summary judgment in the case on the Title IX claim on the grounds that the Plaintiffs had not provided UC Davis of sufficient notice of the precise nature of their claims before filing a suit for damages. In strongly worded decision that set important guidance for Title IX claims across the country, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court, holding that students need not provide a school “notice” of its own institutional decision to provide female students fewer opportunities to play sports. Instead, as the Court found: “[Title IX] requires continuous progress toward the mandate of gender equality that Title IX has imposed on funding recipients for the past thirty years.” Plaintiffs’ counsel Kristen Galles from Equity Legal, a Title IX expert who has litigated many Title IX cases, emphasized the important precedent also set by the Ninth Circuit on the merits of a defense raised by the University in this case and by many universities across the country: “The Ninth Circuit opinion in this case emphasized that a school must have both a history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for women. They can’t just wait and let decades of unmet interest build up until someone files a legal complaint. They have affirmative, independent obligations to expand opportunities. Schools have had 40 years to expand their women’s programs to catch up with the already existing men’s programs. Unfortunately, many schools just haven’t done it. Hopefully, the decision in this case will wake schools up to their obligations.”

Trial Victory For Plaintiffs Finding Title IX Violation By University In August 2010, Plaintiffs scored another win after a three-week bench trial on the issue of whether UC Davis violated Title IX when Plaintiffs were students. A federal district court in Sacramento found in Plaintiffs’ favor on the claim, ruling that the University dropped more than 60 sports opportunities for women without replacing them – soundly defeating the University’s claim that it had been expanding opportunities for women to satisfy Title IX. Taking stock of the settlement announcement, Plaintiff Christine Ng stated: “All we ever wanted was to represent UC Davis in sports. We litigated this case for nearly ten difficult years and missed that opportunity. It should not have to take that long to achieve justice, but we are happy that the lives of many young women attending UC Davis after we did have benefited and will benefit from our fight for Title IX.” Women’s wrestling also scored a win from the case. Plaintiff Lauren Mancuso stated: “The case paved the way for so many girls who wanted to wrestle or participate in other non-traditional sports. For that, we are proud.” Shortly after Plaintiffs filed suit, women’s wrestling made its Olympic debut in 2004 and today thousands of girls now participate in wrestling across the country.

Injunctive Relief Resulting in Much Improved Gender Parity in UC Davis Athletics and WISE Fund Support of UC Davis Female Athletes The Mansourian suit led to the filing of a related suit on behalf of a class of current female students at UC Davis, Brust v. Regents, which resulted in a settlement in 2008 that required UC Davis to improve gender parity in its athletic participation ratios. Monetary proceeds from the settlement were used to create a fund to help developing female athletes at UC Davis. In the past two years, the Women In Sports Equity (WISE) has awarded over $70,000 in grants to female athletes at Davis. WISE Fund recipient and Co-President of UC Davis’s Lacrosse Club Jessica Dresser hailed the fund: “The WISE fund allows for women who may not have the financial means to play collegiate sports to do so. By eliminating barriers to skilled competition such as lack of funding to travel or even being able to afford to participate, more women have the opportunity to learn and further the growth of the sport.” For more information about the case, see www.equalrights.org.

About ERA Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), founded in 1974, is a national civil rights organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls. Through its campaign approach—incorporating public education, legislative advocacy, and litigation—ERA assists women and girls throughout a life-long continuum: ensuring equality in their educational experience, combating sex discrimination in the workforce, and advocating for workplaces hospitable to working families. To learn more about ERA’s work, visit www.equalrights.org.

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