By Allison Sampite-Monteclavo, U-T San Diego
Chula Vista — The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a 2012 ruling that the Sweetwater Union High School District violated federal gender-equity laws by not providing female athletes with the same amenities as the boys.
Judge Ronald M. Gould affirmed a lower-court ruling on Title IX issues, agreeing there had been systemic discrimination against girls.
Title IX is a 42-year-old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs.
Girls softball players from Castle Park High School in Chula Vista sued the district in 2007, stating they had inferior facilities and fewer opportunities to play than male student-athletes.
The class-action lawsuit, Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School, et al., was filed by the California Women’s Law Center, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP.
“It’s an important victory not only for the district but the nation, saying that at the high school level, second-class treatment of female athletes must be eliminated,” said Cacilia Kim, attorney with the California Women’s Law Center. “It sends a clear message to high school administrators that it’s a federal statute that applies to everybody.”
In 2009, U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz made a summary judgment against the district. The district lost the suit in 2009 and paid nearly $500,000 in legal fees.
The district appealed on the basis that the standard of girls sports facilities outlined in Lorenz’s ruling did not apply to high school sports. The district argued it aligned with university-level sports.
In 2012, Lorenz ruled that Castle Park softball players had been “denied the opportunity to participate in high school sports on an equal level with male students at their school.”
That same year, following a 10-day trial, he also found that the district violated Title IX throughout its athletic program’s nine areas, including coaching benefits and publicity. The case also involved retaliation.
Kim said that after the district court ruled in favor of the players, that softball coach Chris Martinez was fired in retaliation.
She said the ruling is significant because most Title IX cases consider only one area of a program. “But our case was different in that it was everything — the program as a whole.”
One of the original players, Veronica Ollier, recently graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. “This experience has helped me become responsible and independent as a female,” she said. “I hope in the future that girls can advocate for themselves.”
Manny Rubio, spokesman for the district, said Sweetwater has ensured future equality between both genders.
“As a district we’ve taken significant actions to ensure that there is parity among boys and girls sports. We will continue to take efforts to provide equal access to all students.”
The district has since made $1.6 million in improvements to the softball field. It was dedicated in April.