Court Case: Mansourian et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al.
Case Adopted 05/05
Case Update (02/12):
The University of California and former UC Davis female student wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso announced on Feb. 16, 2012, that they reached an agreement to settle. The damages phase of the trial on the Title IX claim was scheduled to start on March 5, 2012. The parties chose instead to resolve all remaining issues, including any possible appeals, with payment by the university of $1.35 million to the plaintiffs’ counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the lengthy case.
Arezou Mansourian, Lauren Mancuso, Nancy Chiang, and Christine Ng, female current and former students at the University of California-Davis and former members of the university’s wrestling team, sued the Regents of the University of California for sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for failing to provide them with equal athletic participation opportunities; equal athletic financial assistance opportunities; and retaliating against them for complaining about sex discrimination. Additionally, Mansourian and Mancuso bring this action as representatives of a class that includes all present and future female students at UC-Davis who are denied equal athletic participation opportunities and scholarships. The class has not yet been certified.
Ng and Chiang enrolled at UC-Davis in fall 1998. At that time, they completed the necessary paperwork for NCAA and UC-Davis athletic eligibility. After they were deemed eligible, they began to practice with the UC-Davis wrestling team, which was open to both male and female athletes. During their time on the team, both Ng and Chiang participated in tournaments that had divisions for women wrestlers. As varsity wrestlers, Ng and Chiang received all of the benefits that male varsity wrestlers received from the university, such as medical and athletic training services, laundry services, academic tutoring, insurance, and access to the weight room.
Mansourian enrolled at UC-Davis in fall 2000. At that time she, Ng, and Chiang completed their NCAA and UC-Davis athletic eligibility paperwork, were deemed eligible, and began to participate in wrestling practice. Shortly thereafter, the female wrestlers claim that the coach of the wrestling team informed them that they were no longer allowed to participate in varsity wrestling at UC-Davis. Along with the denial of this opportunity, they were no longer eligible to receive the services, insurance, and other benefits given to male varsity wrestlers.
The female wrestlers maintain that throughout that fall and the winter and with the support of their coach, they met with school officials in an attempt to have the decision that they could not participate in varsity wrestling rescinded. However, the women and their coach were unsuccessful in these efforts. The women filed a complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in spring 2001, alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. Later that spring, UC-Davis enacted a voluntary resolution plan to address these issues, which stipulated that the university would form a wrestling club for men and women in addition to the wrestling team. The plan also stated that both sexes would compete for places on one wrestling team. In June 2001 the university declined to renew the wrestling coach’s contract.
In fall 2001, Mancuso enrolled at UC-Davis. At that time, she, Ng, Chiang, and Mansourian, completed their NCAA and UC-Davis athletic eligibility paperwork and were deemed eligible to participate. They state that upon their arrival for wrestling practice, they were ignored by the new coaches, who told them that per the voluntary resolution plan, the women could only participate on the team if they could beat their own male teammates using men’s — instead of women’s — rules for collegiate wrestling. The women lost these matches and were removed from the team. They claim that they appealed the new requirements to university officials to no avail. Mancuso also claims that the university rescinded her athletic scholarship.
The plaintiffs claim that prior to the university’s mandate, women had been participating on the UC-Davis wrestling team throughout the 1990s and had been receiving all of the advantages provided to varsity athletes. In fact, all four plaintiffs claim that they chose to attend UC-Davis specifically because of the school’s offering of women’s wrestling. Since the university’s directive, women have not been able to practice with the men’s wrestling team or compete in intercollegiate events that offer women’s divisions. To the plaintiffs’ knowledge, the university has not offered female students other athletic opportunities in place of varsity wrestling.
The plaintiffs filed a complaint in federal court in 2003. In 2004, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint. The case is in discovery.
In April 2008, the judge ruled against Mansourian et al saying there was not sufficient notice of discrimination, however he did not rule on whether or not discrimination actually occurred.
In February 2009, AAUW joined the National Women’s Law Center, the ACLU, and other women’s rights groups in signing an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs. In May 2009, the defendant filed an appellee brief and then the Mansourian lawyers submitted a reply brief.
Oral arguments were heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in October. Kristen Galles, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said the oral arguments went great and she was optimistic about getting a strong decision.
On February 8, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court judge’s ruling, denied summary judgment, and ruled that the case should be heard by a trial court. This is a great victory for the plaintiffs and for all those who seek justice.
Plaintiff Christine Ng said, “We are thrilled. We wanted our day in court, not only for us, but as an opportunity to stand up for all girls and women trying to participate in contact sports where stigmas against women remain strong.”
In spring 2010, UC Davis filed a petition for rehearing en banc, asking the 9th Circuit to reconsider portions of the Court’s Title IX ruling. In December 2010, the district court judge denied UC Davis’s latest motions for summary judgment based upon qualified immunity. As a result, all of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in the case. The judge also ordered mediation.
The case went to trial on May 23, in federal court in Sacramento, California. The trial lasted three week and local AAUW members attended to show their support.
In early August 2011, a U.S. District Court in California delivered a mixed decision in the case Mansourian v. Regents of the University of California. The court found that the university failed to comply with Title IX during the time that plaintiffs were students and ineffectively accommodated female student-athletes by not expanding the athletic program. The judge also ruled, however, that the defendants’ actions relating to the wrestling team were merit-less, saying “Plaintiffs have not prevailed on any other theories of Title IX liability. Moreover, plaintiffs have not prevailed on their claims for Equal Protection Clause violations against any of the individual defendants.”
AAUW applauds the long-awaited partial victory but is also extremely disappointed that the judge did not hold the university officials responsible for the violations accountable. AAUW awaits further developments in the case.
Key Case Issues
Sex discrimination in the denial of equal athletic participation opportunities and equal athletic financial assistance opportunities; and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.