Judge: Sweetwater District Unfairly Favored Boys' Sports Over Girls' Sports at Castle Park High
In a potentially precedent-setting decision, a federal judge in San Diego ruled that the Sweetwater Union High School District unfairly favored boys' sports over girls' sports at Castle Park High School by giving the boys better athletic facilities, resources and opportunities.
In the class action lawsuit, filed in 2007, the student plaintiffs sued for relief under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which bars sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs.
U.S. District Court Judge M. James Lorenz, in his ruling Thursday, said "the inequalities demonstrated at trial should have been rectified years ago by the district."
According to the plaintiffs, the case detailed the consistently superior quality of playing and practice facilities for the boys' football and baseball teams, compared with those provided for the girls' teams.
The boys had dedicated locker rooms for just the football team and access to the best athletic amenities, and female athletes did not have comparable facilities, according to the lawsuit. Fields where the girls were required to practice and play were overused, rundown and sometimes unsafe.
"This victory not only validates the arguments of this group of students, but equalizes the playing field for future girls athletes who deserve an equal high school experience to their male classmates," plaintiffs' attorney Erin C. Witkow said. "It's about comparable facilities for boys and girls today and tomorrow. The schools have to comply and continue to comply, and provide an equal opportunity for students athletes no matter their gender."
Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Edward M. Brand said the district is in the process of analyzing the court's ruling, and an appeal is likely.
We find that the standard for which girls' sports facilities outlined in this ruling is not applicable to high school sports, it aligns with university-level sports," Brand said in a statement. "Secondly, all barriers outlined in the original lawsuit have been fully addressed and eliminated.
"The Sweetwater District in 100 percent committed to gender equity, and we have made more than $1 million in improvements to the softball field at Castle Park High School," the superintendent said. "The improvements there have become the standard for softball field upgrades throughout the district. We are extremely proud of the facilities on which our Castle Park High softball team plays, and we encourage everybody to look at the field and its amenities."
When parents and students complained about the Title IX violations at Castle Park, the administration retaliated against the girls by firing their coach and refusing to allow qualified parents to assist the new coach, despite the fact that the baseball team was still allowed to have parent coaches, according to the lawsuit.
In April 2009, Lorenz ruled that CPHS allowed "significant gender-based disparity" in sports at the expense of female athletes.
Thursday's ruling was made in favor of two remaining claims brought by the class: that the District did not provide both sexes equal treatment and benefits; and that the District retaliated in response to complaints of sex discrimination.
"Title IX is almost 40 years old, yet we still see this type of blatant discrimination against young girls all across the country," said Elizabeth Kristen of The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. "High school girls who participate in team sports are less likely to drop out of school, less likely to smoke or drink, or become pregnant. And they are more likely to go on to college."