Thu, 30 Nov 2023

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A lawsuit accusing the California State University system of intentionally discriminating against female athletes by not giving them as much financial aid as male athletes will continue to move forward after a federal judge in San Diego agreed to dismiss some of the plaintiffs' claims on Friday, but denied the CSU Board of Trustees and San Diego State University's motion to dismiss the case. 

"This is a huge victory for the women athletes," Arthur Bryant, attorney for the athletes, said, "and everyone who cares about stopping sex discrimination at SDSU and nationwide."  

In February 2022, 17 current and past female student athletes at San Diego State sued, claiming that the school and the CSU Board of Trustees violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of gender. They say the school did not pay female athletes an equal amount of financial aid as their male peers for over a decade.

Days after the students filed their lawsuit, the coach of the women's track and field team held a Zoom meeting with her team, which included five of the plaintiffs. The coach called the five women out specifically and said she was disappointed in them, thought the lawsuit was a distraction, and that students who participated or assisted with the lawsuit could be taken off the team. 

The athletes claim the meeting dissuaded a number of other female student athletes from joining an amended complaint, and it made the student athletes embarrassed, humiliated, and left them feeling like second-class citizens.  

The CSU trustees and San Diego State pushed for dismissal of the plaintiffs' third amended complaint, arguing that the they did not fix a number of issues ordered by the court in the previous amended complaint regarding some of the athletes' standing as former athletes, former students, or students who weren't on the Zoom conference call.

U.S. District Judge Todd Robinson denied most of the CSU Board of Trustees and SDSU's requests in his ruling in the U.S. District Court Southern District of California in San Diego.

In a prior ruling on the plaintiffs second amended complaint in April, Robinson, a Trump appointee, agreed with the defendants that the plaintiffs who were not students at the time the first complaint was filed, students that were on a female rowing team that was dismantled before the complaint was filed, and those that were not on the Zoom call with the coach, lacked standing. Some of those concerns over standing were solved by additional information included in the third amended complaint, Robinson ruled. 

The courts prior decision found that one of the plaintiffs, Natalie Figueroa, who was on the rowing team, failed to allege she was denied the opportunity to get financial aid because she was a female athlete, because she never received any financial aid when she was on the team. 

But the third amended complaint added information about Figueroa being honored as an American Athletic Conference All Academic Team member based on her performance in school and her athletic contributions. She was also named as a Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Scholar-Athlete. The third amended complaint also alleged that she was told by her coaches that she would have received financial aid if the rowing team had not been disbanded.

"These added allegations showing Ms. Figueora's athletic accomplishments and various awards are sufficient for the court to draw the reasonable inference that Ms. Figueroa was able, ready, and in a position to compete for a proportional pool of financial aid had it existed," Robinson wrote. 

Robinson also reversed a previous finding that the track and field team didn't have standing to pursue their claims that they were denied the opportunity to get financial aid because they were female athletes.

But Robinson did grant the defense's motions to deny standing to seek injunctive and declaratory relief to students on the rowing team and the student athletes who joined the lawsuit after they graduated or transferred from SDSU.    

"The court held that all of the women could sue SDSU for cheating its student athletes out of millions of dollars of financial aid," Bryant said, but, he added, that only some of the plaintiffs will be able to hold SDSU accountable for the discrimination those students faced in the past "and stop them from discriminating in the future." 

Attorneys for CSU's Board of Trustees did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Source: Courthouse News Service

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