Jury verdict puts colleges on notice about sex bias
A former Fresno State women's volleyball coach has won a $5.85 million award in her discrimination lawsuit against the university.
TWO WEEKS after the 35th anniversary of the Title IX gender equity law in school sports, a former Fresno State volleyball coach and graduate of Punahou School has chalked up a $5.85 million jury award
in her discrimination lawsuit against the university. Combined with a two-year-old U.S. Supreme Court law protecting Title IX whistleblowers, the ruling is a strong reminder to all universities that they must play by the rules.
The jury granted the award to Lindy Vivas, who contended that she was fired in 2004 and replaced by a man because she advocated for female athletes and access to campus facilities. On deck is Fresno State softball coach and world sports hall-of-famer Margie Wright, who is suing the school for retaliating against her for supporting gender equity.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that Title IX, authored by the late Hawaii Congresswoman Patsy Mink, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. The Lingle administration joined Alabama and seven other states in arguing against the protection, claiming that the threat of cutting off federal funds to institutions violating the law had been adequate in preventing gender bias.
Marking Title IX's anniversary, Stanford University's Center on Ethics reports that the law has increased the number of female high school athletes from 290,000 to 2.9 million and women participants in intercollegiate sports from 16,000 to 180,000.
However, their participation in sports has failed to substantially increase job possibilities on campus. Only 42 percent of women's teams and fewer than 2 percent of male teams have female head coaches. At the University of Hawaii, men coach all 10 men's teams and seven of the 10 women's teams.
Title IX has its detractors; one-fourth of respondents to opinion polls believe its effect has been "mostly negative." The Stanford center attributes that opinion partly to "a widespread misperception about the statute's impact on male sports."
The center acknowledges that some of that criticism is legitimate. At Stanford, four times as many men as women try out for varsity tennis teams, but the men's team has about half the number of tennis scholarships. "There is not equal opportunity in my sport," says men's tennis coach Dick Gould.
Sports Illustrated senior writer and National Public Radio commentator Frank DeFord criticizes the law's requirement that athletic programs reflect a school's enrollment by gender. When Title IX was enacted, 55 percent of college students were male. Today, 57 percent are female. "Can two-thirds be far behind?" he asks.
The Stanford report calls football "the elephant in the room." While a National Football League team has 53 players, NCAA Division 1 teams have rosters of 114 to 120, offering 85 football scholarships. Salaries of college football coaches are 10 times the average of faculty members.
DeFord suggests eliminating all athletic scholarships or moving the football program out of the athletic department and into "the new Department of Entertainment or the Department of Amusing The Alumni." Neither is likely to happen, but some adjustment of the rules might be needed to reflect men's and women's interest in sports participation.