“Substantial and unjustified” gender inequities identified

(San Diego, CA, September 17, 2008)—An investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) confirmed “substantial and unjustified” Title IX violations in San Diego Mesa College’s (Mesa) athletic program. The violations OCR identified were initially the subject of a complaint by former head basketball coach Lorri Sulpizio shortly before she and her domestic partner, the former Director of Basketball Operations, Cathy Bass, were terminated from their employment with Mesa. OCR’s investigation focused on gender disparities in the treatment of student-athletes and did not include Sulpizio’s and Bass’ retaliation and employment discrimination claims, which are the subject of a pending lawsuit.

OCR investigated whether Mesa operates an intercollegiate athletic program that provides benefits, opportunities, and services to female athletes that are equivalent to those provided to male athletes. Based on its investigation of Mesa’s treatment of male and female student athletes, OCR “identified disparities with respect to the scheduling of games, the provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, and the provision of medical and training facilities.” OCR further concluded that: “These disparities were more than negligible and collectively established a violation of Title IX.” Specifically, OCR found that:

Mesa had scheduled football games at the same time as a women’s basketball tournament, and “the result of this was that the female basketball players were not allowed to use the women’s locker room.”

“Only female athletes have been scheduled to play at a time when they were not able to use their own locker rooms.”

“The women’s basketball team has been displaced from the women’s locker room by a visiting football team,” forcing the women’s team to use inferior facilities and preventing the visiting team from using any restroom facilities.

“Softball is the only College team that shares its competition field with another team of a different sport. The baseball field is used exclusively by baseball, while the softball field is shared with the men’s and women’s soccer teams.”

Mesa’s policy with respect to student-athletes’ access to athletic service trainers “has a disparate, negative impact on female athletes.”

The OCR determined that these gender inequities have “a negative impact on female athletes,” are “of a substantial and unjustified nature” and “established a violation of Title IX.”

As a result of OCR’s investigation, Mesa entered into a resolution agreement with OCR that addresses the issues that OCR identified. Mesa’s compliance with the agreement will be monitored by OCR.

“Mesa should comply with the law and ensure that women student-athletes and coaches have the same resources and opportunities as their male counterparts. We are pleased that the Office of Civil Rights is addressing these inequities at Mesa,” said Helen Carroll, Sport Project Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

On July 24, 2008, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Boxer & Gerson, LLP and Stock Stephens, LLP filed a lawsuit in state court in San Diego, California on behalf of Sulpizio and Bass. The complaint alleged that despite Sulpizio’s and Bass’s dedication and demonstrated track record of success leading the women’s basketball program at the community college, Mesa officials unlawfully fired both coaches after they spoke out about the unequal treatment of female athletes and women coaches and following publication in a local paper of an article identifying them as domestic partners.

Click here to read Coach Sulpizio’s and Coach Bass’s bios (pdf)

Click here to read the complaint filed on 07.24.08 (pdf)

Click here to read more about Sulpizio and Bass v. San Diego Mesa College

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.