Former Westling Coach Alleges Judge in Case Had Conflicts of Interest
By Paayal Zaveri
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”
UC Davis was found in to be in violation of that by not providing adequate athletic opportunities for women during the years 1998 and 2005. This was found when former UC Davis students and women wrestlers, Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng and Lauren Mancuso, filed a claim against UC Davis in 2003 because they cut the women’s wrestling program, while continuing to expand other male-dominated sports teams. A settlement was finally reached last Thursday by a payment of $1.35 million to the plaintiffs’ counsel for legal fees. This means that the damages phase of the trial that was scheduled to start March 5th will no longer happen.
According to a press release by the University News Service, the university did not meet the standards of Title IX because it didn’t provide proper opportunities for participation during the years in question. However, it states the campus does have a history of supporting women’s athletics. Although the case is now settled, there are a few things left unanswered and ambiguous. To understand these it is necessary to know the background of the case. During the 2000-2001 academic school year, two of the plaintiffs were on the wrestling team and one was being recruited for it and the administration demanded that they be removed from the team. The university had a separate program for women wrestlers where they competed against other women, but this was cut in 2000. Additionally, the women’s water polo and women’s lacrosse teams were both cut.
Mancuso stated, “They had a women’s program and then dropped it or kicked the women out in the year 2000. It made quite a large impression on the student body so the school ended up telling the public and the press that women will be reinstated next year in 2001, that’s why I decided to go to Davis. But then when I got there the coach said well you will have to try out for a spot on the men’s team if you want to wrestle, which is not what the term reinstatement means.”
After this, the plaintiffs began researching and found that the university was out of agreement with Title IX, which was when they knew they had a case. It was a much bigger case than just wrestling.
“We couldn’t find a lawyer quickly enough to meet the statute of limitations for the actual specific wrestling incident, which is why in a lot of papers they say that we lost the individual portion, the equal protection claim,” added Mancuso.
Michael Burch, former UC Davis Wrestling coach, stated that “UC Davis has never been in compliance with title IX since it was passed in 1972. It’s only in compliance with this last case that puts them in compliance with title IX. No matter how much they want to talk about how much they do for women’s sports the bottom line is that this case determined that they have never been in compliance, so that’s why the women got the settlement.”
The judge ruled against the women and in favor of the university in their claim that removing them from the team was in violation of the equal protection clause.
There is much speculation about this and Burch has stated that the judge, Frank C. Damrell Jr., is believed to have a conflict of interest with the case. Additionally, it was a non-jury trial.
“The women wrestlers discovered when the case was over that the judge was a family member of the Gallos, that he sat on a board of trustees at other UC Campuses with the defendants, that he himself has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Gallos as well. He’s got conflicts of interest pouring out of him and judges are at least obligated to disclose information. The lawyers’ response to this was, they didn’t know,” said Burch.
However, although there is evidence to support Judge Damrell’s conflict of interest, it is unclear the degree to which the plaintiffs’ lawyers were aware or if they were at all aware of this conflict of interest. The lawyers were not available for comment on this issue at this time.
“The important question is not only whether Judge Damrell withheld critical conflict of interest information from plaintiffs in order to help the defendants, but also important is what this scenario means about the women wrestler’s representation and what they did or didn’t know,” stated Burch, “The women wrestlers requested numerous times, with my support, that their attorneys file judicial misconduct or an appeal.”
However, as seen by the settlement, neither of those things were done and the case is presented as settled and concluded. The settlement is being represented as a victory for female athletes because of the changes it brought about at UC Davis.
According to a press release by the Equal Rights Advocates firm “”While it is disturbing that the University chose to spend millions to litigate for years rather than let these women participate, this case brought about important changes at UC Davis that will provide other female students an equal chance to participate in sports as Title IX requires.”
Burch added, “There are a number of very important points about this case that have come to fruition. One is that UC Davis was in violation of Title IX but number two that the university has continued to have this kind of influence in the courts. It’s an outrage.”
Mancuso states that the settlement is “bittersweet” and “all that they spent on the $1.35 million and paying their own attorneys they could have spent on the students. I’m happy that it’s over, I’m pleased that they settled for $1.35 million to pay our attorney fees but I think it should have happened a long time ago.”