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Arezou Mansourian; Lauren Mancuso; Nancy Nien-Li Chiang v. Board of Regents of the University of

December 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge


This matter is before the court on motions for summary judgment, brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, filed by defendants Larry*fn1 Vanderhoef ("Vanderhoef"), Greg Warzecka ("Warzecka"), Pam Gill-Fisher ("Gill-Fisher"), and Robert Franks ("Franks") (collectively "defendants" or "UCD").*fn2

Plaintiffs Arezou Mansourian ("Mansourian"), Lauren Mancuso ("Mancuso"), and Christine Wing-Si Ng ("Ng") (collectively "plaintiffs")*fn3 oppose the motion. For the reasons set forth below,*fn4 defendants' motions for summary judgment are DENIED.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Mansourian, Mancuso, and Ng were all students at University of California, Davis. Plaintiff Mansourian entered UCD in the fall of 2000 and graduated in June 2004. (VUF ¶ 26.) Plaintiff Mancuso entered UCD in the fall of 2001 and received her degree in September 2006. (VUF ¶ 33.) Plaintiff Ng entered UCD in 1998 and graduated in September 2002. (VUF ¶ 30.) Each of the plaintiffs wrestled in high school and attended UCD, in large part, to wrestle. (PDF ¶ 2.)

At the time plaintiffs entered UCD, there had been a wrestling program available to women at UCD. (PDF ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs contend that there was a long-standing women's varsity wrestling program at UCD. (PDF ¶ 3.) Defendants contend that there was a single wrestling program in which women participated at various times. (PDF ¶ 3.) However, all parties agree that women wrestlers, including plaintiffs, were listed as varsity athletes on participation lists, roster lists, and in the Aggie Open*fn6 programs. (PDF ¶ 13.) UCD women wrestlers, including plaintiffs, competed in open meets, but did not compete in NCAA competitions.*fn7 (PDF ¶ 3.) Men and women competed against their respective sex, not each other; women wrestlers used women's freestyle rules rather than men's collegiate rules. (PDF ¶¶ 5-6.) Women wrestlers, including plaintiffs, also received benefits of varsity status, such as highly qualified coaching, attention unique to the needs of women wrestlers, lockers, training services, academic support services, and laundry services. (PDF ¶¶ 6, 11-12.) They attended the end of the year team banquet and received honors from the coach. (PDF ¶ 14.)

In 2000, all women were removed from the wrestling program after UCD imposed a roster limit*fn8 for the wrestling team. (PDF ¶ 16.) Plaintiffs assert that the UCD athletic department administration instructed Michael Burch ("Burch"), the wrestling coach, to remove the women from the wrestling team. (PDF ¶ 16.) Defendants contend that Burke made the decision to remove women from the team because they were not competitive. (PDF ¶ 16.)

Despite their removal from the roster, plaintiffs were permitted to continue practicing with the wrestling team. (PDF ¶ 16.) After Mansourian was injured during a practice in January 2001 and sought assistance from a varsity trainer, defendant Warzecka told plaintiffs they could present a potential liability to UCD if they continued to practice with the team because they were not on the varsity roster and thus, not covered by the insurance plan. (PDF ¶¶ 17-19.) Plaintiffs assert that Warzecka directed them not to participate in wrestling. (PDF ¶¶ 18-19.) Plaintiffs were devastated that their wrestling opportunities were eliminated. (PDF ¶ 20.)

Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a number of complaints with the athletic department administration and the U.S. Department of Education's ("DOE") Office for Civil Rights ("OCR").*fn9 (PDF ¶ 21.) At the same time, soon after the OCR complaints were filed, UCD fired Burch for his support of women's wrestling. (PDF ¶ 27.)

Each of the individual defendants was bombarded by public outcry protesting the removal and continued exclusion of women from the varsity wrestling team. (PDF ¶ 28.) Students, the student government, UCD employees, parents, members of the public, and legislators expressed concerns that defendants' actions toward plaintiffs were unfair and discriminatory. (PDF ¶ 29.) Specifically, Assemblywoman Helen Thomson ("Thomson") challenged UCD's efforts to demote the women wrestlers to club status as "separate but equal" treatment and threatened to withhold a significant source of funding on a UCD building in protest.*fn10 (PDF ¶ 29.)

In May 2001, UCD reinstated plaintiffs to the wrestling team by placing them on the roster. (PDF ¶ 30.) While plaintiffs were allowed to practice with the team and participate in open meets, there were no opportunities for plaintiffs to compete in May 2001. (PDF ¶ 30.)

In June 2001, defendant Vanderhoef met with Thomson to discuss the issues raised in the May 3 letter. (PDF ¶ 15.) Thomson also met with defendant Gill-Fisher, who explained the athletic department's position on the issue of women wrestlers.

(PDF ¶ 16.) On June 13, 2001, Vanderhoef had a letter delivered to Thomson (1) setting forth the campus' plan for sustaining opportunities for women in sports; (2) explaining why UCD could not comply with Thomson's request to eliminate the roster cap for the wrestling team; (3) offering to convene a blue ribbon committee of nationally recognized authorities on Title IX to review UCD's intercollegiate athletic program with respect to its compliance with Title IX, with an emphasis on how the campus was handling women's wrestling; and (4) asking her to join with him in making a public statement in support of the campus' athletic program and defendants Warzecka and Gill-Fisher, for their accomplishments in the area of college athletics. (VUF ¶ 17.) The proposal to have a blue ribbon committee review UC Davis' intercollegiate athletic program in regard to its compliance with Title IX and the manner in which it was handling women's wrestling was made at the suggestion of Donna Lopiano, a recognized expert in Title IX issues who had been contacted by Gill-Fisher. (VUF ¶ 18.) After the letter was sent, Thomson had no further meetings with Vanderhoef regarding these issues. (VUF ¶ 18.) The proposed blue ribbon committee on UCD's Title IX compliance was never convened. (VUF ¶ 18; PDF ¶ 74.)

In September and October 2001, the OCR, without consultation with plaintiffs, negotiated with defendants a "voluntary resolution" of plaintiffs' OCR complaints. (PDF ¶ 31.) UCD agreed to reinstate the women on the team as a resolution of plaintiffs' complaints, conditioned on plaintiffs' ability to compete against men for slots in the wrestling program. (PDF ¶ 32.) UCD's purported reason for requiring women to wrestle-off 6 against men, using men's wrestling rules, (the "wrestle-off policy") was because the places on the team were limited by roster caps. (PDF ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs inquired whether, as females, they would have to comply with a roster cap, which was intended to limit the number of men participating in order to move toward gender equity in participation opportunities; the women were told that they would have to comply with the male roster caps.*fn11 (PDF ¶ 35.)

In the fall of 2001, Mansourian, Ng, and Mancuso attended wrestling practices with the team. (PDF ¶ 39.) Plaintiffs contend that at practice, the new head wrestling coach, Lennie Zalesky, was hostile to the women and did not provide them with any coaching, tips, or support. (PDF ¶ 40.) Mansourian asserts that she stopped attending practices because she felt unwelcome and humiliated. (PDF ¶ 41.) Subsequently, under the new wrestle-off policy, Ng wrestled against Manucuso, who beat her. Mancuso then wrestled off against a male wrestler, who beat her. (PDF ¶ 42.) As a result, all plaintiffs were eliminated from the varsity wrestling program. (PDF ¶ 43.)

B. Individual Defendants

Defendants Vanderhoef, Franks, Gill-Fisher, and Warzecka are all employees of the UCD who had responsibilities regarding the oversight of administration and operation of athletics at UCD. (PDF ¶ 1.) Each of these defendants is a state actor. (PDF ¶ 1.)

Defendant Vanderhoef served as the Chancellor for the University of California, Davis from 1994 through August 16, 2009. (VUF ¶ 2.) The Chancellor is the chief campus officer and is responsible for the organization and operation of the campus. The Chancellor is authorized to delegate responsibilities to a wide variety of administrators. (VUF ¶ 3.) However, Vanderhoef was ultimately responsible for UCD's athletic program and compliance with gender equity requirements. (PDF ¶ 65.)

During the 2000-2001 academic year, Judy Sakaki ("Sakaki") was the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and defendant Franks was the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UCD. (VUF ¶ 4.) Sakaki and Franks, along with the campus Athletic Director, were responsible for the intercollegiate athletic program, including decisions relating to coaches, the selection of sports sponsored at the intercollegiate level, and sports conference issues. (VUF ¶ 4.) The Vice Chancellor or her designees were also responsible for overseeing Title IX compliance. (VUF ¶ 5.) Vanderhoef relied on Dennis Shimek ("Shimek"), UCD's Title IX compliance officer to oversee and handle Title IX issues, including complaints from students. (PDF ¶ 68.) However, although day-to-day decisions were delegated, Vanderhoef tracked UCD's Title IX compliance and met frequently with officials regarding gender equity. (PDF ¶ 66.) Indeed, Vanderhoef testified that the "buck" stopped with him. (PDF ¶ 67.)

Defendant Franks was a senior administrator at UCD from 1994 to 2004 charged with oversight of the athletic department and actively involved in the events at issue in this case. (PDF ¶ 76.) As the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Franks directly supervised and met weekly with the Athletic Director. (PDF ¶ 77.) Among his other responsibilities, Franks was responsible for ensuring that men and women were treated equally in the athletic department, including evaluating whether the department was providing equitable participation opportunities for female students. (PDF ¶¶ 79, 84.) Between 1994 and 2004, Franks participated in committees that evaluated the issue of gender equity in UCD's athletic department. (PDF ¶ 83.) Franks also carefully reviewed UCD's Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act ("EADA") Reports which quantified how many participation opportunities UCD was offering to men as compared to women. (PDF ¶ 86.) Franks also reviewed UCD's proposed addition or elimination of any intercollegiate team and had responsibility to ensure it was a fair process. (PDF ¶ 87.) Franks admits that during the period of 1994-2004, he received and reviewed reports and memos that alerted him to gender inequities. (PDF ¶ 88.)

Defendant Warzecka has been UCD's Athletic Director since 1995, and as such, was responsible for the overall direction, leadership, and management of the UCD Intercollegiate Athletic program. (PDF ¶¶ 100-01; WUF ¶ 1.) He was responsible for ensuring gender equity in the athletic department, including regular review of compliance with gender equity laws through committee work and the development of gender equity plans. (PDF ¶¶ 102, 104-05.) He also oversaw the addition and elimination of intercollegiate teams. (PDF ¶ 106.) Since 1996, Warzecka has prepared and analyzed UCD's EADA Reports. (PDF ¶ 107.)

From approximately 1985 to 2003, defendant Gill-Fisher was the Associate Athletic Director and Supervisor of Physical Education. In 2003, Gill-Fisher was the Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator with significant responsibility in the intercollegiate athletic department. Gill-Fisher had a particular expertise in Title IX and had responsibility for UCD's compliance with gender equity laws. (PDF ¶ 126.) Historically, Gill-Fisher authored or significantly contributed to nearly every report related to gender equity at UCD, including reports that acknowledged UCD athletic department's gender equity failings. (PDF ¶ 127.) Defendant Vanderhoef testified that he had faith in Gill-Fisher to make decisions and ensure compliance with gender equity at UCD. (PDF ¶ 130.) Similarly, Shimek and senior athletic department administrators relied on Gill-Fisher's opinion and assessment regarding gender equity. (PDF ¶¶ 131-32.)

C. Equal Opportunities in Athletics

During the relevant time periods in this case, UCD never provided females with athletic opportunities substantially proportionate to their enrollment. (PDF ¶ 46.) Specifically, between 1995 and 2005, UCD was short of exact proportionality by over a hundred varsity slots each year. (PDF ¶ 47.) A November 9, 1992 UCD memorandum from defendant Gill-Fisher noted that UCD has a "backward slide in compliance" and concluded that UCD "cannot continue with current practices and not risk a law suit and/or investigation by the OCR." The memorandum further provided, "I believe that unless we make some changes immediately and have on file a plan for compliance in these areas our current situation is indefensible. . . . we are not being fair to women athletes as things currently stand and in my opinion we are violating the law." (PDF ¶ 46.) Two years later, a September 1, 1994 UCD memorandum from Gill-Fisher admitted that "participation ratios persist as the most consistent finding of non-compliance at U.C. Davis . . . ." (PDF ¶ 46.) By an internal UCD letter dated January 13, 1998, defendant Franks was informed that UCD was not where it should be in regards to Title IX compliance. (PDF ¶ 46.) By letter dated December 2, 1998, California National Organization for Women requested information from defendant Warzecka regarding UCD's plan to rectify the 11.9% discrepancy between percentages of women enrolled and women student-athletes. (PDF ¶ 46.) That same year, Warzecka acknowledged that a gender imbalance in the athletic department "is not a new issue." (PDF ¶ 53.) The 1999 UCD Title IX Working Group admitted that the participation rates of women in the varsity program was not substantially proportionate. (PDF ¶ 46.)

The 2001-2002 Equity in Athletics Plan acknowledged that the participation rates of women in the varsity program was not substantially proportionate. (PDF ¶ 46.) An email dated November 15, 2002, from defendant Gill-Fisher to Shimek warned that participation rates for women in UCD varsity athletics continued to worsen, falling from 6.8% to 9.7% in just one year. (PDF ¶ 46.) The number of participation opportunities at UCD dropped by a total of 63 between 1999 and 2005; in 1999-2000, 424 female athletes participated, while in 2004-2005, only 368 ...

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