Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High Sch. Dist.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 09-19-2014
  • Case #: 12-56348
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judge N. Smith and Chief District Judge England
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, unlawful sex discrimination in high school athletics occurs if the “interest and abilities of female athletes” are not “fully and effectively” accommodated, with “substantially proportionate participation opportunities for male and female students” as compared to each respective group’s enrollment; however, the substantial proportion requirement can be circumvented by past and ongoing efforts to expand an athletic program; additionally, a student athlete has standing to bring a retaliation claim if there is a “judicially cognizable” injury.

In April 2007, Veronica Ollier and four other female high school students (collectively “Plaintiffs”) brought a class action suit against the Sweetwater Union High School District (“Sweetwater”), for unlawful sex discrimination pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”). Plaintiffs alleged that female athletes were subjected to “(1) unequal treatment and benefits in athletic programs; (2) unequal participation opportunities in athletic programs; and (3) retaliation.” The district court granted the Plaintiffs' partial summary judgment on the unequal participation claim and later granted declaratory and injunctive relief on the Title IX claims at the bench trial. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that Sweetwater did not “fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of female athletes” or establish reasons for the disparity between the enrollment of female students and the participation opportunities available. Sweetwater was thus in violation of the Title IX requirement that there be “substantially proportionate participation opportunities for male and female students” as compared to each respective group’s enrollment. Further, the panel held that Sweetwater did not show any past or ongoing corrective efforts to ensure “nondiscriminatory participation opportunities through program expansion,” and that the gender imbalance in athletics was not due to a varying level in interests in sports. The panel lastly held that the Plaintiffs had standing under Article III of the Constitution because retaliation in fact occurred when Sweetwater fired the female softball team’s coach for making Title IX complaints on behalf of the Plaintiffs, the Plaintiffs’ suffering “judicially cognizable injuries” as a result of the loss of their coach. AFFIRMED.

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