Title IX: Taking the Law Into Our Own Hands

Because the federal government has not strongly enforced Title IX, feminists all over the country have filed civil rights complaints and lawsuits against their colleges and high schools in order to force their institutions to implement gender equity. These lawsuits and complaints have been quite successful.

Since 1990, hundreds of lawsuits and Civil Rights complaints have been filed under Title IX and state Equal Rights Amendments charging gender discrimination in sports in high school and college. Most of these have been resolved in favor of women, resulting in women’s teams being reinstated that were scheduled to be cut, women’s club sports being upgraded to varsity status, and women coaches receiving equal pay. Almost all of the cases that were dropped or lost involved men suing or complaining that they were being discriminated against.

In 1993, Howard University head women’s basketball coach Sanya Tyler sued Howard for sex discrimination under Title IX and the D.C. Human Rights Act, saying she was paid much less than the men’s head basketball coach. Breaking new ground with the first monetary award given by a jury in a Title IX case, Tyler was awarded $2.4 million (later reduced to $1.1 million) in damages.

The California Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) has also made significant strides for girls and women athletes by taking offenders to court. Finding the entire California State University system in violation of the 1976 California Education Code mandating immediate progress in gender equity in CSU intercollegiate athletics, California NOW filed suit against all twenty University campuses. In an out-of-court settlement, CSU officials agreed to provide equal opportunities and funding for women’s and men’s athletics on all campuses by the 1998-99 school year.

Title IX has helped women athletes at Brown University as well. Following the decision by the athletic department to cut two men’s and two women’s sports from their varsity roster, the women gymnasts took Brown to court. The students argued that the two women’s teams combined cut $62,000 from the women’s sports budget while the two men’s teams only amounted to a $16,000 detraction from the men’s budget. These cuts were even more enraging because Brown was already in violation of Title IX. The students’ argument has prevailed in both the District and Appeals Courts. In 1997 Brown University lost its appeal to the US Supreme Court which upheld the appelate court decision that Brown was violating Title IX.

Title IX has indirectly affected athletic decision-making at schools such as the University of Iowa, Harvard, and Stanford University. These schools initiated women’s sports enhancement programs. These programs set a deadline for achieving gender equity by creating new women’s teams, elevating others and providing additional funding in a broad spectrum of areas. At least sixteen other colleges and universities have also taken such action to comply with Title IX.

Contact the appropriate Title IX Coordinator in your organization and participate in the Title IX Action Network!

Mostly excerpted from the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 1995 Empowering Women and Girls in Sports report.

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