Cases & Advocacy

Sulpizio v. San Diego Mesa College

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: California

Lorri Sulpizio was the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at San Diego Mesa College (Mesa), and her domestic partner, Cathy Bass, assisted the team and served as the team’s Director of Basketball Operations for over eight years. 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 discharged both coaches at the end of the 2007 academic year after Coach Sulpizio repeatedly advocated for equal treatment of female student-athletes and female faculty, and following publication in a local paper of an article identifying Sulpizio and Bass as domestic partners.

NCLR and Leslie F. Levy of Boxer & Gerson, LLP and Mattheus Stephens of Stock Stephens, LLP are representing Coach Sulpizio in her lawsuit against the San Diego Community College District. Recent high profile Title IX jury verdicts and settlements at Penn State, California State University, Fresno, and University of California, Berkeley have raised awareness about systemic gender inequities and homophobia at major colleges and universities. This case is a powerful illustration that similar problems pervade the athletic departments of community colleges as well.

On September 8, 2008, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education, which investigated Mesa’s compliance with Title IX with respect to its treatment of student athletes, found “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.” The OCR concluded that those disparities had “a disparate, negative impact on female athletes” and “collectively established a violation of Title IX.”

On December 3, 2009 the National Center for Lesbian Rights secured a favorable jury verdict on behalf of Lorri Sulpizio on her retaliation claims. 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’s engaged in gender inequities in violation of Title IX and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.