Moshak v. University of Tennessee: Discrimination Too Common in College Athletics
Update, January 7, 2016: The plaintiffs successfully settled their case in January 2016. The university will pay more than $1 million as part of the settlement agreement. AAUW is thrilled for the plaintiffs and proud to have supported their case.
Women’s sports have come a long way since Title IX, but a lawsuit from former University of Tennessee staff shows that we are still grappling with gender gaps in university athletics. AAUW is proud to support the case through our Legal Advocacy Fund.
The Story behind Moshak
Jennifer Moshak, Heather Mason, and Collin Schlosser are former employees of the University of Tennessee’s women’s athletic department. In 2012, they filed suit against the university, alleging sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The plaintiffs claim they were unlawfully discriminated against and eventually forced out of their positions during a university-led merger of the men’s and women’s athletic departments.
Schlosser and Mason argue in part that they were fired by UT after making internal complaints alleging unequal pay between men’s and women’s athletic department employees. Moshak claims she was forced to retire after being demoted and marginalized. The plaintiffs also say that during the merger, which was led by newly hired Athletic Director Dave Hart, the vast majority — 86 percent — of positions terminated either were held by women or were associated with the women’s athletic department.
“The University of Tennessee and its athletic director, Dave Hart, engaged in blatantly discriminatory and retaliatory actions against accomplished employees in the women’s athletic department, in violation of Title IX and other federal laws,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall, and Banks, a civil rights law firm in Washington, D.C. “Gender discrimination is unfortunately a situation that is all too common in collegiate athletic departments across the country today, and we intend to use all the tools at our disposal to hold the university accountable and to shed light on this pervasive problem.”
The case is currently scheduled to go to trial in June 2015 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Tennessee. AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund began supporting the case in 2014.
Why Moshak Matters
Although equity in athletics wasn’t a primary goal of Title IX, the gains in women’s sports have been some of the most widely recognized examples of gender equity success. Since Title IX was passed more than 40 years ago, women’s participation in college sports has increased by more than 600 percent.
Yet gender discrimination in sports remains a significant problem, for athletes as well as for coaches and administrators who support women’s athletics. The Moshak plaintiffs shared a professional commitment to women’s athletics at a school — the University of Tennessee — that has a rich history of excellence in women’s sports. If the plaintiffs’ claims are vindicated in this case, we face the sobering reality that gender discrimination in athletics persists, even at schools where female athletes have achieved great success.
Significantly, the Moshak plaintiffs’ allegations go beyond discrimination against women in the workplace. They also challenge the university’s treatment of women’s sports staff, both male and female. Those allegations speak to a deep level of potential institutionalized discrimination when it comes to valuing women’s sports and women athletes.
AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases during its 33-year history. The case support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund announced that it will provide support to the plaintiffs in Moshak v. University of Tennessee, a case that underscores the everyday nature of gender discrimination in college athletics.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in education.