Lawsuit alleges gender and sexual orientation discrimination at San Diego Mesa College

(San Diego, CA, 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 today in state court in San Diego, California on behalf of Lorri Sulpizio, the former Head Coach of the women’s basketball team at San Diego Mesa College (Mesa), and Cathy Bass, the former Director of Basketball Operations at Mesa. The complaint alleges 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 at the end of the 2007 academic year 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.

“While at Mesa, we put the welfare of student-athletes first. We coached outstanding student-athletes to success on the courts and in the classrooms,” said Sulpizio. “We should have been able to advocate for equal treatment of women athletes and faculty without retaliation. Instead, Mesa fired us both for raising issues of unequal treatment and Title IX violations.”

The complaint alleges that Mesa officials retaliated against Sulpizio and Bass for repeatedly raising concerns about unequal treatment of female athletes and faculty, as well as discriminating against them and ultimately firing them based on their gender and sexual orientation. The complaint names Mesa Athletic Director Dave Evans, San Diego Mesa College, and the San Diego Community College District as defendants. The complaint alleges they violated numerous federal and state laws, as well as the California Constitution. Sulpizio and Bass seek mandatory trainings for all athletic department faculty on the prevention of gender and sexual orientation discrimination and immediate action to bring Mesa’s Athletic Department into compliance with Title IX, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

“Coach Sulpizio and Coach Bass should have been able to continue coaching and running an excellent college basketball program at Mesa,” said NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll. “By firing these two coaches, Mesa is depriving their student-athletes of dedicated coaches who serve as outstanding role models in a sports world with fewer and fewer female coaches.”

Lorri Sulpizio served as Head Coach of the Mesa women’s basketball team for five years, from 2002- 2007, after spending three years as an Assistant Coach and then a year as Interim Head Coach. She regularly led the team to championship play at tournaments, and secured high-level finishes in Pacific Coast Conference Championship tournaments in several seasons. The Mesa women’s basketball team won first place in the 2001-2002 season and third place in both the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. Under Sulpizio’s leadership, 50 percent of student-athletes from the women’s basketball team went on to four-year schools, which was higher than the average from Mesa’s other athletic teams. Also, more of Mesa women’s basketball student-athletes advanced to play ball at four-year colleges and more completed Bachelor’s degrees than the average from other San Diego community colleges.

Cathy Bass began working at Mesa as Assistant Coach to the women’s basketball team in 1999, and was appointed as an adjunct faculty member and made Director of Basketball Operations for the team in 2006. In that capacity, she was an integral part of the successful women’s basketball program at Mesa.

Lorri Sulpizio and Cathy Bass are registered domestic partners in the State of California, and together they have three children.

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)

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.