Tennis Coach Wins in Gender Bias Match Against University

by Darrin Mackender, Fisher Phillips

It goes without saying that federally funded educational institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of gender. Some federal courts believe Title IX is the proper statute upon which to base employment discrimination claims, while others believe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the correct vehicle. Either way, there is no doubt that some form of remedy exists for such discrimination.

In 2005, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a coach who suffers an adverse employment action for complaining about inequities in a women’s sports program can bring a Title IX claim for retaliation.

But what about a male coach who claims his employment is adversely impacted by Title IX violations affecting a women’s sports program — does he have a claim for discrimination under Title IX? In a very recent decision, a federal court in New York allowed just such a claim to proceed. The July 26 court order in Pejovic, et al. v. State University of New York at Albany could provide guidance to educational institutions about the risks you may face when making decisions some could construe as being gender-related.

University Draws A Line And Eliminates Tennis Program 

Gordon Graham coached the women’s tennis team at the State University of New York at Albany for approximately five years. In 2016, the university terminated the program and, according to Graham, gave the coach “meaningless administrative tasks and no professional coaching opportunities.” Some time later, the university notified Graham that his contract would not be renewed when it expired.

Graham filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights, asserting that the termination of the women’s tennis program violated Title IX. The OCR concluded that the complaint was substantiated, and Graham — along with several former players — filed suit alleging the university violated their Title IX rights by terminating the women’s tennis program.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the September 24, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.