SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal district court judge in California has ruled that the University of California at Davis violated Title IX, the law banning gender discrimination in schools, when it failed to supply sufficient athletic opportunities to women during the time the plaintiffs attended the university.
But the decision, handed down Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell Jr., also found that university officials did not discriminate against a group of female wrestlers when they were cut from the UC Davis wrestling team in 2001.
To comply with Title IX standards, schools must show continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. Damrell found opportunities for female athletes at UC Davis showed a pattern of contraction, not expansion: from 1998 to1999 there were 424 total female participants in student intercollegiate athletics, while from 2004 to 2005 there were only 363 total.
"UC Davis has not demonstrated that while plaintiffs were students at the University it had a continuing practice of program expansion that was demonstrably responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex," Damrell wrote. "Rather, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that while plaintiffs were students, UC Davis eliminated more than 60 actual participation opportunities for women."
UC Davis has argued that administrators tried hard to comply with an inherently murky law. Administrators were not ultimately found to be at fault.
"The court notes that the issues raised regarding UC Davis’ non-compliance with Title IX are difficult, particularly in light of the dearth of guidance in this area of the law," Damrell wrote. "Universities should be encouraged to add as many athletic participation opportunities for women as soon as they can; application of rigid time tables should not encourage dalliance on the part of institutions in order to ensure compliance under clarifications that were meant to demonstrate the flexibility accorded institutions."
The split decision had both sides claiming a win.
“As this Court’s decision reflects, schools must make gender equity a priority. Generations of young women depend on it,” said Noreen Farrell, a managing attorney at Equal Rights Advocates who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
“We are gratified, after all these years, at this vindication of our record of supporting equality for all students,” said
Fred Wood, vice chancellor for student affairs at Davis, said in a statement.
Damrell will not rule on the damages the plaintiffs will receive until November.