No One Is Immune from Title IXDecember 22, 2010
AAUW was pleased by last week’s court decision that found that four top officials at the University of California, Davis, could be sued for violating Title IX. Three female former athletes filed a lawsuit in 2003, alleging that the university first excluded them from the wrestling program in 2000 and then failed to give them a fair opportunity in 2001 to earn a position on the team by requiring them to compete against men, using men’s rules. The school officials claimed the school should have immunity because it didn’t “violate a clearly established constitutional right.”
The officials were wrong. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds. The judge found that “freedom from purposeful discrimination in education” is a constitutional right and noted that Title IX is so clearly established, it’s even the name of a women’s sportswear company. This means that the case against the school officials must be heard by a jury, which will decide if the officials were “deliberately indifferent” to the women’s “constitutional right to equal treatment in athletics.”
This is an important victory for Title IX. Title IX’s impact on women’s athletic participation is one of the country’s greatest civil rights success stories; it changed the playing field dramatically for girls and women in sports. In 1972, fewer than 32,000 women competed in intercollegiate athletics. Women received only 2 percent of schools’ athletic budgets, and athletic scholarships for women were virtually nonexistent. Things have improved, but even in recent years, women made up 57 percent of the college student population, yet they received just 45 percent of the opportunities to play intercollegiate sports and 33 percent of recruitment funds.
The expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women must continue at both the high school and college levels, because it is important not only for the participants but also for the greater community. When girls participate in sports, they are less likely than nonathletes to get pregnant, drop out of school, do drugs, smoke, or develop a mental illness. And they are more likely to have higher grades and graduate.
Take up Title IX enforcement yourself with the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund’s Title IX Compliance: Know the Score program, which provides members with materials about high school athletics and resources to help members find out if schools in their communities are in compliance with the law. Get involved and help improve girls’ opportunities to play sports!