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Veronica Ollier, et al v. Sweetwater Union High School District

February 9, 2012

VERONICA OLLIER, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SWEETWATER UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: M. James Lorenz United States District Court Judge

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This is a class-action case*fn1 in which the plaintiff class is defined as all present and future Castle Park High School ("CPHS") female students and potential students in the Sweetwater Union School District ("District") who participate, seek to participate, and are or were deterred from participating in student athletics activities at CPHS. The class representatives are Veronica Ollier, Naudia Rangel, Martiza Rangel, Amanda Hernandez and Arianna Hernandez. Defendant Sweetwater Union High School District ("SUHSD" or the "District"), is a public school district located in Chula Vista, California. CPHS is a school within the District.

Defendant District is alleged to have unlawfully discriminated against female student athletes at CPHS with respect to "practice and competitive facilities; locker rooms; training facilities; equipment and supplies; travel and transportation, coaches and coaching facilities; scheduling of games and practice times; publicity; and funding" in violation of Title IX.

(Complaint, ¶ 40.) Additionally, plaintiffs allege that defendant has "failed to provide female students with equal athletic participation opportunities, despite their demonstrated athletic interest and and abilities to participate in athletics." Id., ¶ 71. Because of these alleged failures, plaintiffs assert that girls' participation in sports is severely limited and interested girls are discouraged from going out for sports. Id., ¶ 74.

On March 30, 2009, the Court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary adjudication on their second cause of action finding that plaintiffs demonstrated through uncontroverted, admissible evidence that defendants are not in compliance with Title IX based on unequal participation opportunities in athletic program.*fn2 [doc. #87] The remaining claims are violation of Title IX based on unequal treatment and benefits to females at CPHS, and retaliation.*fn3

A ten-day bench trial was held between September 14, 2010 and October 15, 2010. Based on the trial, the parties' stipulations, and admitted evidence, the Court issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).

FINDINGS OF FACT

Equal Treatment and Benefits Under Title IX

A. Background

"The impact of Title IX on student athletes is significant and extends long beyond high school and college; in fact, numerous studies have shown that the benefits of participating in team sports can have life-long positive effects on women." Parker v. Franklin County Community School Corp., 2012 WL 266870, *4 (7th Cir. January 31, 2012)(citing Dionne L. Koller, Not Just One of the Boys: A Post--Feminist Critique of Title IX's Vision for Gender Equity in Sports, 43 CONN. L. REV. 401 (2010). In her article, Koller states:

Studies have shown that sports participation provides important lifetime benefits to participants such as "discipline, teamwork, time management, and leadership that further long-term personal growth, independence and well being" and "better physical and mental health, higher self-esteem, a lower rate of depression, and positive body image, as well as the development of responsible social behaviors, greater educational success, and inter-personal skills." (quotations omitted).

ONN. L. REV. at 413.

"[D]iscriminating against female athletes and creating feelings of inferiority with their male counterparts can have long-lasting negative effects." Parker, 2012 WL 266870, *4 (citing Cmtys. for Equity v. Mich. High Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 178 F. Supp.2d 805, 837--38 (W.D. Mich. 2001), aff'd, 377 F.3d 504 (6th Cir. 2004), judgment vacated on other grounds, 544 U.S. 1012 (2005), aff'd on remand, 459 F.3d 676, 695 (6th Cir. 2006).

Plaintiff Veronica Ollier attended CPHS for four years, graduating in 2007. She played softball on the JV and Varsity teams during her freshman year of high school and then on the Varsity team the remaining three years. Veronica also played basketball and was the football team manager her first and second years of high school.

Maritza Rangel attended CPHS in 2008 and 2009. She played JV softball during her first year of high school.

Naudia Rangel attended CPHS from the second semester of her freshman year through her graduation ins 2007. Naudia played softball all four years she attended CPHS and played girls' basketball during her second year of high school.

Amanda Hernandez played softball on the JV team her first, second and fourth years of high school. She also played basketball during her time at CPHS.

Arianna Hernandez entered CPHS in 2008 and will graduated in 2012. She plays softball, and has played Varsity water polo, and basketball. Arianna was the captain of the JV softball team in 2008-09.

Douglas Christopher Martinez ("Coach Martinez" or "Chris Martinez") was the walk-on coach of the CHPS girls' softball team from 1999-2006. He became the head coach of the softball team in 2000.

Defendant District is a public school district located in Chula Vista, California. CPHS is a school within the District. CPHS has an active athletic program with numerous sports offered to enrolled students.

Maria Castilleja was the Principal of CPHS from the fall semester of 2002 through the spring semester of 2006. Paul Van Nostrand was the Athletic Director at CPHS from the 1999-2000 to 2004-05 school years; Russell Moore was the Athletic Director at CPHS from the 2005-06 school year through January 2010. The Athletic Director supervises all athletic coaches. Neither Athletic Director testified at trial. Gary Gauger is the Maintenance Manager for the District and was designated as the Person Most Knowledgeable about documents relating to improvements to the softball field at CPHS. Angela Yuhas-Russo was an English teacher who became the girls softball coach at CPHS after Coach Martinez's employment was terminated.

Just prior to the 2006-07 school year, Coach Martinez was relieved of his duties as softball coach at CPHS. On July 27, 2006, plaintiffs' counsel sent a letter regarding alleged Title IX violations at CPHS to the School Board, Interim Superintendent, Principal and Athletic Director. This action was filed on April 19, 2007.

Plaintiffs called Sue Enquist as an expert in the area of softball. She is an All-American, world champion and national champion softball player, and has coached softball at UCLA for more than 26 years. The Court found Sue Enquist qualified to testify as an expert witness regarding softball and baseball.

Plaintiffs retained Donna Lopiano as a Title IX expert. The Court qualified Lopiano as an expert witness in Title IX compliance issues. On May 9, 2008, Lopiano conducted an on-site inspection at CPHS. In conducting a comprehensive Title IX evaluation of CPHS's athletic program and facilities, Lopiano also reviewed documents produced by defendants and deposition testimony. Lopiano's evaluation used the Title IX analysis set forth in the Policy Interpretation and Investigator's Manual.

At trial, Lopiano testified that she found wide-spread Title IX equal treatment and benefits violations at CPHS. Equal treatment and benefits claims allege sex-based differences in the schedules, equipment, coaching, and other factors affecting participants in athletics. The Court notes that while Lopiano's testimony was challenged, her methodology and conclusions were uncontroverted.

B. Recruiting Benefits

Each athletic coach at CPHS is tasked with recruiting new team players and conducting publicity for the team. If there is no coach for a team, no recruiting occurs. The decision for how recruiting is to occur is left to the discretion of the individual coaches.

Female athletes were provided with fewer coaches, coaches with more limited experience, and coaches who were unable to adequately coach because of excessive other assignments. Coaches for female athletic teams had higher turnover rates than coaches for male teams and as a result, there was less stable coaching for girls' teams which in turn means less successful teams and recruitment of players. Further, coaches for girls' sports teams were on several occasions appointed shortly before the start of the season and therefore, there was no time for recruiting by the coach. Sports teams were discontinued when coaches were not hired. The lack of coaches for girls' teams impacted negatively the teams' ability to participate in conference and non-conference competitions. This also influenced the ability to adequately recruit girls for athletic teams.

For purposes of obtaining players, head coaches need time for recruiting but at least one of the coaches for girls' teams was the head coach for three teams. No coach for male teams was ever assigned to be head coach for three teams. The head coach for the three girls' teams was unable to recruit for softball and was told by the CPHS Athletic Director to not recruit for softball because she was an inexperienced new coach and had the burden of three head coaching positions.

Coaches of boys' teams recruit more heavily than girls' teams coaches. The Athletic Director went to feeder schools to talk about boys' athletic programs programs. Middle-school boys and their parents were invited to watch football practice at CPHS. There were three sports -- wrestling, football and roller hockey -- that were designated as co-ed. Participation by girls on these teams was minimal but there were no efforts by the coaches to recruit additional girls on the coed teams.

Defendants presented no evidence that recruitment practices had changed at CPHS since the filing of this action.

C. Locker Rooms, Practice and Competition Facilities

For Title IX compliance, locker rooms are evaluated with respect to location, size of lockers, exclusivity, and whether the locker room area is a team meeting area.

With respect to the quality and size of locker rooms at CPHS, 38.8% of male athletes had superior facilities as compared to 0% of female athletes. The remaining 61.2% of all male athletes had adequate facilities and 100% of female athletes had adequate facilities.

The CPHS football team had its own separate locker rooms that was rated as superior in size and quality. But female athletes had access only to a generic locker room with lockers that were too small to store athletic equipment, and was shared with all the other girls' athletic teams and with all the other physical education classes. Because of the small size of the lockers, females althletes, including the CPHS softball team, were required to carry all of their equipment with them during the school day. Female athletes at CPHS were required to vacate the girls' locker room whenever a visiting football team came to campus and therefore, they were unable to use the locker room during that time.

Locker rooms are rated superior if lockers are next to the practice and competition facilities, adequate if the lockers are in close proximity and on-campus, and inadequate if lockers were located off-campus. At CPHS, 82.9% of male athletes and 54% of female athletes have superior location of locker rooms; 11.8% of male athletes and 40% of female athletes have adequate locker rooms with respect to locker room location.

Superior or adequate team meeting facilities were provided to 58% of male athletes and 30% of female athletes. The main gymnasium at CPHS has two adjacent team rooms. The basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams have access to these team rooms.

Prior to the 2010 softball season, the softball team did not meet in a team room. During the 2010 softball season, an empty classroom near the JV field was the designated softball team room; however, there were no lockers in the room. Nor was the room painted with the school colors.

With respect to the quality and size of practice facilities, 90% of male athletes had superior practice facilities compared to 78% of female athletes. Dr. Lopiano's 2008 analysis of the girls' softball field, indicated that the practice facility was of much lower quality than the boys' practice facilities in that boys had separate instructional areas, more instructions aids, and additional equipment. Ninety percent of male athletes and 80% of female athletes benefitted from superior location of practice facilities.

With respect to the size and quality of competition facilities at CPHS, 97% of male athletes and 79.3% of female athletes have superior competition facilities. Adequate competition facilities were available for field hockey and tennis.

The location of athletic competition facilities showed that 86.8% of male athletes and 77.6% of female athletes had access to superior locations.

Sue Enquist testified that the softball facility was inferior to the boys' baseball facility.

The baseball facility had a netted instructional complex consisting of a main competition field for practices, two pitching areas or bullpens, rollaway backstop, multi-station instructional areas, a batting cage, significant storage area, four stands for spectators, on-field facilities that allowed for multiple practice stations, protective screens, and a separate batting cage for batting from multiple areas. The baseball complex was fully enclosed which restricted its use from any other use and prevented damage from use and overuse. The playing surface was high quality, and the outfield fences were wind-screened.

Veronica Ollier and Naudia Rangel testified that when they played softball at CPHS, between 2003-07, the Varsity softball field had a too-small backstop that was wooden which allow for balls to ricochet off at a high rate of speed. The dugouts were chain-link rather than cinder block, and for most of the time, the dugouts did not have a roof. As a result the players were not adequately protected from the sun and wind, and were susceptible to distractions from spectators.

The baseball field has large, cinder block dugouts with aluminum benches with backrests, cubby holes inside the dugout to store gear, and storage attached to the dugouts. The baseball dugouts are painted with the school colors and have the school logo and mascot on them. These dugouts allow greater privacy for greater player focus and fewer interruptions from the general public. The cinder block dugouts also provide protection against the weather for the players.

There was no outfield fence for the softball field. The infield dirt was extremely hard, uneven with many grooves and divots which caused players to be afraid of bad hops and reluctant to slide or dive for balls in the infield. There were large holes in the dirt in the batter's box. The outfield grass encroached into the infield dirt. The outfield grass was patchy, uneven and dangerous. The poor condition of the softball field made practices and games difficult and negatively impacted player development.

Because no one from CPHS was designated or acted to maintain the softball field, the softball team and its coach performed maintenance on the field. Maintenance Manager Gauger has not seen a regular maintenance schedule for the softball field. Maintenance of a softball field requires watering, raking and scarification so the dirt surface can be consistent and safe. The outfield needs cutting, watering and fertilization. At CPHS, the maintenance of the softball facility was particularly problematic because of the lack of perimeter fencing, the use of the field by physical education classes for kickball, softball and soccer, and use by the girls' field hockey and soccer programs. Recreational youth soccer leagues used the softball fields on weekends when Veronica Ollier and Naudia Rangel attended CPHS. In contrast, the boys' baseball field was not used for physical education classes or for any other uses. Regular maintenance was provided for the baseball field by the baseball coach's father, Mr. Sosa.

Administrators at CPHS knew the softball field was inferior to the baseball field. Principal Castilleja testified that she believed the softball field was in need of improvement in

In 2006-07, certain renovations to the softball field were undertaken. Roofs were added to the dugouts, new dirt was put on the infield, new pitching rubber and a permanent walkway next to the field were installed. But the new dirt did not adhere to the hard-packed dirt and as a result, the new layer of dirt did not remain in place. The newly added permanent asphalt walkway was a hazard because players in cleats could slip on the smooth surface, as Naudia Rangel did.

Sue Enquist examined the softball and baseball infields in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Each time the softball infield was deemed to be inferior to the baseball infield. In May 2008, the softball soil was very firm and cement-like. The softball field had been insufficiently watered. The soil had not been graded to create a consistent and firm field which increased the risk of injury to the players. The hard dirt made it difficult for players to slide without being bruised. The grass in the second base area of the softball field was growing into the dirt and was unmanicured which results in unevenness of the soil area and increases inconsistent bounces in the infield. In May 2008, the boys' baseball infield playing surface was in good condition, was level, the dirt was excellent with a firm blending of two types of dirt resulting in consistent bounces and decreased risk of injury when players would slide.

In April 2009, the softball infield remained inferior to the baseball infield with respect to safety and quality. The softball infield had uneven transitions and overgrowth of grass onto the dirt while the baseball field had clean, smooth transitions from grass to dirt which allowed for a more consistent playing surface for running bases or fielding ground balls.

In May 2010, the softball infield remained inferior to the baseball infield because it had a false top layer of soil that increased the risk of injury. In contrast, in May 2010, the baseball infield had clean lines of transition and the field was manicured and level which decreases the risk of player injury.

Sue Enquist testified that the softball outfield was inferior to the baseball outfield in 2008 and 2009 in that it was uneven and consisted of areas of thatches of grass and dead areas which increased the risk of player injury and untrue or bad ball bounces.

In May 2008, there was no outfield fence at the softball field. As a result, students were able to cut through the outfield leading to more outfield grass damage. During Enquist's site visit to the softball field, a physical education class was in session on the softball field. In contrast, the boys' baseball outfield playing surface was more level, the quality of the grass was more consistent and was firmer than the girls' softball outfield playing surface.

In her site visit in April 2009, Enquist did not see improvements to the softball outfield -- dead grass areas created an inconsistent playing surface and a plumbing repair to the softball outfield caused an uneven area in the grass. In May 2010, Enquist noted that the softball outfield had been improved.

As previously noted, perimeter fencing provides for an enclosed outfield that protects the field from overuse and damage. Further, not having a side fence hampers the ability to designate out-of-play ball and increases the risk of injury for spectators. The boys' baseball field is enclosed by fencing, includes a home run fence, and is a secure, locked facility. The baseball fencing was installed approximately 20 years ago. Although CPHS Administrators were aware that the softball field did not have perimeter fencing while the baseball field did, and Maintenance Manager Gauger suggested the softball field be enclosed, fencing was not provided.

In April 2009, the softball field had a non-permanent outfield fence and the site was still not secured. In 2010, the varsity softball field was completely enclosed with secure, permanent fencing, which included a windscreen. Enquist opined that the fencing improvements to the softball field remained inferior and unsafe in ...


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