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WSF Proud Participants in Recent Advocacy and Title IX Victories

Two recent major Title IX and advocacy victories are a direct byproduct of the hard work, expertise and support from the Women’s Sports Foundation. The first, a Title IX ruling in a University of California at Davis (UCD) case that ended in a $1.35 million settlement, was supported by a 2008 amicus brief written by the Women’s Sports Foundation for the 11th Circuit Appellate Court in California. The second, an adjustment to the NCAA standards for advertising that eliminates ads which are intentionally offensive to women, came to fruition out of a letter written by WSF CEO Kathryn Olson in 2010.

Last week, the University of California at Davis agreed to pay 1.35 million in a settlement with three women wrestlers after a U.S. Federal Court ruled in August 2011 that the university violated Title IX by not sufficiently expanding intercollegiate athletic opportunities for female students between 1998 and 2005. The court also found that the university ended more than 60 intercollegiate sports opportunities for women without replacing them. The settlement covers the cost of the court fees for the eight year duration of the case, but does not include money to the plaintiffs since the court ruled the women were not entitled to damages.

In 2008, the Women’s Sports Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of the three plaintiffs in the case. The brief, highlighting the policies surrounding UC Davis’ treatment of their women’s athletic department and female athletes, was also signed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Donna Lopiano, WSF CEO at the time of the filing of the amicus brief, acted as expert witness during the trial.

The wrestlers, Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancusco filed suit in 2003 after UC Davis eliminated women's opportunities in wrestling and other women's sports. When an official at UC Davis decided to limit the number of students allowed on the wrestling team, players were required to try out for a spot. The plaintiffs did not make the cut, which required each wrestler to wrestle-off with opponents of a similar size.

This is the first major court case that addresses the meaning and application of "Prong Two" of the generally accepted "Three Prong Test" that measures Title IX compliance in terms of participation opportunities. The "Three Prong Test" allows a school to comply with Title IX by either ensuring near parity in the number of participation opportunities offered to men and women relative to their enrollment (Prong One); or by continually expanding opportunities for the underrepresented sex in a way that is responsive to their developing interest (Prong Two); or by sponsoring all sports for which there is interest by the underrepresented sex (Prong Three).

The victory in Mansourian v. California means that schools will no longer be able to claim Title IX compliance through the Prong 2 defense if that school has contracted the women’s athletic department. Meaning, if a school has 500 female athletes, then cuts the number of able participants to 450, it cannot claim Prong 2 as their means of compliance. Also found is that athletic directors are personally liable under the United States Constitution if they knowingly operate their athletic departments in violation of Title IX. A hard-fought, nine-year journey, the results of this case have major implications on the monitoring and enforcement of Title IX.

Just last week, the NCAA added language to its advertising criteria that will give the NCAA, through President Mark Emmert, the power to veto offensive sponsors, ads or advertising campaigns, like those seen from GoDaddy.com. The official language states, “the advertising or promotion of other goods or services that specifically or in the totality of the advertising is inconsistent with the well-being of student athletes or the image and best interests of higher education or intercollegiate athletics.”

In 2010, WSF CEO Kathryn Olson wrote a letter to President Emmert asking him to consider adding a criteria that enveloped racist or sexist advertising. Since the sending of that letter, the WSF has worked both individually and with coalition partners to get these types of ads excluded from NCAA programming. Because of this edit to the standards, sports fans will no longer be exposed and subjected to advertising that gets its power from the intentional offense of women. A step in the right direction, indeed.