California State’s Women’s Lacrosse Team Suing Over Alleged Sex Discrimination

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California State’s Women’s Lacrosse Team Suing Over Alleged Sex Discrimination
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In October of 2020, California (Fresno) State University announced that it was eliminating lacrosse in addition to several other sports programs in an attempt to cut costs during the pandemic. In response, players from the women’s lacrosse team gathered together to file a sex discrimination class action lawsuit against the university, alleging violation of the Title IX civil rights law. However, this class action does not stem merely from the October program reduction, but from player allegations that the women’s lacrosse team had already been experiencing a pattern of discriminatory behavior, especially compared to other varsity teams.

The choice to cut the women’s lacrosse team allegedly only compounded the existing discrimination against female athletes.

Cutting the women’s lacrosse team seems to be framed as the last straw inspiring this lawsuit. The class alleges that participation numbers of the female student-athletes are grossly disproportionate to their undergraduate enrollment numbers, and that choosing to eliminate a women’s team when the university had the ability to keep it going constitutes a violation of the Title IX discrimination law. The motion for preliminary injunction alleges that “such discrimination and denial of opportunity constitutes irreparable harm” for both female lacrosse players and future female athletes in general.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law addressing sex discrimination in academic settings.

Title IX includes protections for students of any sex in any educational or other programs that receive federal financial aid. Title IX prohibits excluding any student in this scenario from a program or activity on the basis of sex; this law also includes protections for any individuals who come forward to report allegations of a Title IX violation. Title IX also applies to scenarios of sexual harassment and/or violence, making it illegal for a university or federally-funded institution not to respond in a timely and reasonable manner. If the allegations of a Title IX violation by the school by actively participating in discrimination against current and future female athletes are true, the university could be in hot water.

Fresno State’s women’s lacrosse team points out a history of discrimination against female athletes in intercollegiate sports.

This is not the first Title IX complaint filed against the university over claims of gender discrimination in regard to its athletic programs; the university has faced two previous lawsuits over Title IX violations in regard to female athletics programs. In this case specifically, the lacrosse players allege that despite being a varsity team they were not given the same opportunities, benefits, and support as other varsity teams at the university. The lawsuit is requesting that the university both reinstate the lacrosse team and afford them the same treatment as other varsity sports teams, including coaching and academic support, equitable compensation, and access to locker rooms and training facilities like those provided for the other teams.

The university’s preliminary responses to the lawsuit include strong denials of these allegations and a desire to dispute the claims made therein.

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