Attorneys reach final agreement in Title IX case
Attorneys representing current and former members of the Lake Oswego High girls softball team announced Tuesday that they have finalized an agreement with the Lake Oswego School District to bring its high school sports programs and facilities into compliance with the requirements of Title IX.
The agreement, which was reached on Sept. 25 and filed with the U.S. District Court in Portland on Tuesday, adds opportunities for girls to play sports on par with boys' offerings and equalizes athletic treatment and benefits experienced by female athletes in several ways, according to Kim Turner, a senior staff attorney with Legal Aid at Work, who joined with Lake Oswego lawyer Andrew Glascock to represent the plaintiffs.
Specifically, the agreement requires the district to:
• turf the girls' softball field at Lake Oswego Junior High to allow all-weather play;
• make other improvements to the field, including an indoor hitting facility immediately outside the right-field fence, cinderblock dugouts, a press box and concession stand, lights and an electronic scoreboard, a flag pole and foul poles, a drinking fountain and other items;
• add sports opportunities for girls at Lake Oswego High — such as a junior varsity softball team, interscholastic water polo and lacrosse teams and no-cut policies on volleyball and soccer squads — to ensure that the percentage of girls attending LOHS who are active in sports is comparable to the participation rate of boys. The district must also step up efforts to recruit female athletes; and
• adjust practice and play times for girls' teams, make more locker rooms available for girls, equally publicize and promote girls' and boys' teams and apportion coaches equitably at LOHS. The district must also ensure equal access to equipment, supplies and medical and training services.
"Ensuring that all students, regardless of gender, enjoy equity is the promise of Title IX, and we are pleased to see it enforced through this agreement," Turner said. "We can truly celebrate a victory for the girls and equity when we see the district make good on the commitments in the settlement over the next three years, such as the new softball turf field and complex for the high school girls' program."
Attorneys for the school district did not respond to requests for comment, but Superintendent Heather Beck told The Review on Wednesday that "we are grateful that we were able to amicably resolve this case. We are looking forward to having improved facilities for our student athletes."
On Friday, Beck told the district's Coordinating Council that administrators would work to assure equity at both high schools.
"We're excited to get started improving some of these facilities," she said, "as well as some of our policies, which we will tinker with and make them better. And we'll be a better school district because of it."
The federal lawsuit, which was first filed in April 2016, alleged that the girls' softball team has been denied equal access to the kinds of equipment, facilities, funding and fundraising opportunities provided to the boys' baseball team. By doing so, the plaintiffs claimed, the district was in violation of Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex "under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
According to the lawsuit, the girls had to play on an off-campus dirt field with no hitting facility. Meanwhile, the boys used an on-campus field with artificial turf and a hitting facility that the girls were not allowed to use because it also doubled as a locker room. The result, the lawsuit claimed, was that the softball team could not practice hitting on rainy days, and games and practices were frequently canceled because of inferior drainage on the dirt field.
The softball facilities also lacked a bullpen, pitching area, warm-up area, batting cages or a way to separate the field to allow multiple practice stations, the lawsuit said.
"We are glad to see the school district and high school truly committing to equity for girls, who for too long have felt like a second class," said LOHS senior Anna Tomita, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a current member of the girls' softball team at Lake Oswego High School.
Lawyers for the district and the plaintiffs reached a tentative agreement on major terms in the case in July, and the Lake Oswego School Board voted 5-0 at the time to approve it. That "statement of agreement" and the final settlement filed Tuesday both indicate that the turf field will be installed at LOJ in time for the 2017-18 softball season, and that the hitting facility and other improvements will be added by the 2018-19 season.
On Tuesday, Turner said the court will retain jurisdiction for three years to ensure compliance, and that an equity consultant and community task force will oversee the implementation of the agreement. Among other things, that oversight will include monitoring booster club funding and private donations to the athletic program.
In addition, the district has agreed to not retaliate against anyone for their participation in the lawsuit or for their advocacy on behalf of female athletes; to institute annual Title IX training for all employees; and to issue quarterly reports that document the district's implementation of the settlement agreement.
The district also agreed to pay Glascock and Legal Aid at Work $262,500 in legal fees and costs.
"Our daughters bravely stood up to an institution that dismissed them as not deserving all the same athletic opportunities and amenities as male students," said Shelly Jones, whose daughter Morgan is a senior player on the LOHS softball team. "Through this action and the settlement, the girls should feel proud that they have not only worked to establish an equal playing field for the softball program, but now all girls at Lake Oswego High School can experience equity in the athletic program."