Jury Finds Title IX Retaliation at San Diego Mesa College

(San Diego, CA, December 3, 2009)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) secured a favorable jury verdict on behalf of Lorri Sulpizio, the former head coach of the women’s basketball team at San Diego Mesa College (Mesa), a college within the San Diego Community College District (District). The California State Court jury awarded $28,000, the equivalent of one year’s salary, in damages, finding that the District had retaliated against Sulpizio when she complained that Mesa engaged in gender inequities in violation of Title IX, a federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance in the United States.

Sulpizio was represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Leslie Levy of Boxer & Gerson, LLP, and Mattheus E. Stephens of Stock Stephens, LLP.

“I am very pleased with the verdict,” said Sulpizio. “This is a victory for the student-athletes who work so hard to succeed on the court and in the classrooms. They deserve nothing less than fair and equal treatment. I remain committed to Title IX and ending gender discrimination in sports, and this verdict inspires me to continue working for equality.”

Filed on July 24, 2008, the lawsuit alleged that Mesa officials retaliated against Sulpizio after she repeatedly raised concerns about unequal treatment of female athletes and faculty, and ultimately fired her. The complaint was brought against the San Diego Community College District as a defendant at trial. The jury found that the District violated federal and state laws.

“This verdict should underscore for coaches and athletic directors in the California community college system—and in two-year colleges across the nation— that the protections of Title IX apply just as strongly as in any four-year college,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Amy Todd-Gher, one of the trial attorneys on Sulpizio’s case. “Title IX is a statute that should be used to continue to open the doors wide for women to participate equally in college athletics, and to protect employees from retaliation when they have the courage to speak up in the face of gender inequities.”

Lorri Sulpizio served as head coach of the Mesa women’s basketball team for six years, from 2001- 2007, after spending three years as an assistant coach. She led the team to championship play at tournaments, and secured several high-level finishes in the Pacific Coast Conference, including an undefeated conference Championship in 2002.

“This verdict vindicates a dedicated coach who has an excellent track record running successful basketball programs,” said NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll. “In a sports world with fewer and fewer women coaches, this verdict will hopefully put a stop to retaliation against coaches who advocate for gender equality.”

The case was tried in the department of the Honorable Judge Ronald Prager.

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.