LOHS softball players file Title IX lawsuit
District denies girls access to the same kind of equipment, facilities, funding and publicity as the boys' baseball team, federal complaint alleges
Ten members of the Lake Oswego High School softball team filed a federal Title IX lawsuit against the school district Monday, saying they have been denied equal access to the kinds of equipment, facilities, funding and publicity enjoyed by male athletes.
At one point, the lawsuit alleges, school officials told the students and their parents that some of the inequities wouldnt be addressed until the softball team wins a state championship. That would be a difficult goal, the lawsuit says, in light of the current inequitable treatment and benefits provided to the team.
The lawsuit, filed April 4 in Portland's U.S. District Court by attorney Andrew D. Glascock, claims parents and students have complained to the district about Title IX violations or unfair treatment of female athletes for years. It seeks relief under provisions of the 1972 law that prohibit discrimination based on sex under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Phone calls to Glascock at the Hiefield Foster & Glascock law firm in Portland were not returned Tuesday. But a spokeswoman for the Lake Oswego School District told The Review that the district "has a long history of supporting athletic opportunities for its female athletes and has been working on plans to improve practice and playing conditions for the Lake Oswego High School softball team.
Some improvements have already been made, said Nancy Duin, the districts director of communications, such as providing suitable inclement weather practice opportunities for girls softball and an upgrade to the indoor softball batting cage. Additional planning, coordination and equipment are required to further improve conditions, and the district expects those will be in place within the next several weeks.
No court date has been set for the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of 10 student athletes between the ages of 14 and 18. Among their complaints:
Unequal practice facilities: The boys baseball team has exclusive access to a locker room designated for use only by the team, as well as an on-campus, enclosed hitting facility with state-of-the-art pitching machines; the softball team does not have a designated locker room and has no hitting facility, the lawsuit says, and the girls are not allowed to use the boys equipment.
The lawsuit says supporters of the softball team spent 14 months working with the district to design and engineer a hitting facility for the girls and secured a substantial donation to help with construction costs, only to be told in February that the facility would not be built "unless and until the Lake Oswego High School softball team 'wins a state championship'" and that the funds would be used for another sport.
In addition, the lawsuit says, the baseball team practices and plays on an on-campus field with artificial turf, which allows the boys to play and practice year-round. In contrast, the girls play and practice on a dirt field located at Lake Oswego Junior High; that field suffers from poor drainage that has often forced the team to cancel practice and games because of poor field conditions, the suit says.
At the boys field, dugouts provide drinking fountains for players, stadium seating for fans, a press box, sound system and bathrooms. Dugouts at the girls field have no drinking fountains, fans sit on bleachers and the bathrooms, which are not maintained by the district, are often broken and unclean, the lawsuit claims.
Simply put, the lawsuit says, the boys baseball team plays in a stadium that is equivalent to or better than many college and minor league facilities, while the girls softball team plays on a below-average junior high field.
Unequal equipment: In addition to the artificial-turf field, baseball players at LOHS have access to pitching areas and bullpens, a rollaway backstop and on-field facilities that allow multiple practice stations, protective screens and a separate batting cage for batting from multiple areas, the lawsuit says. The baseball team also has access to an athletic trainer during games, with appropriate supplies to treat injured players.
In contrast, the lawsuit claims, softball players have a couple of small, old screens (one of which is just a frame because the netting has rotted away). There is no bullpen or any type of pitching area, warm up area, batting cages or any way to separate the field to allow multiple practice stations.
The softball team is not provided with an athletic trainer during games or supplies to treat injuries, the lawsuit says. The softball team is not even provided with a basic first aid kit, the suit alleges.
Unequal funding and publicity: A concession stand at the boys field allows the team to raise money during games, the lawsuit says, and the team uses its hitting facility to raise money by hosting clinics throughout the season. Those fundraising opportunities do not exist for the softball team, the suit says, and publicity efforts to promote both teams also are inequitable.
This is not the first time the district has faced Title IX complaints.
Lakeridge High was accused in 2001 of making its softball team play in George Rogers Park while the basbeall team was given access to an on-campus field. The district used $700,000 in bond funds to build an on-campus softball field for the girls.
In another case, Lake Oswego High was criticized because a video room where athletes could review game footage outfitted with a flat-screen TV and comfy couches could only be accessed through the boys locker room. The school responded by providing alternate access to the room and upgrading a second video viewing facility for female athletes. The case was resolved in December 2008.
In both of these cases, then-Superintendent Bill Korach told The Review, we adjusted to the circumstances we had to address.
Under Title IX, schools must provide equal treatment and benefits to members of both sexes who participate in any interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics offered by a recipient of federal funding. That includes equipment and supplies, locker rooms and facilities, the scheduling of games and practice time, and the assignment and compensation of coaches. It also applies to funding and publicity.
The lawsuit filed Monday claims the school district violated Title IX by knowingly and deliberately discriminating against female students. That behavior has resulted in irreparable harm to the softball players because they will never be able to participate in interscholastic and/or other school-sponsored athletics on an equal basis with their male classmates.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the district to adopt and implement a budget and plan for correcting the inequities and to provide all female athletes with treatment and benefits comparable to those provided to male athletes. It also asks that the district be required to pay attorneys fees and court costs.