Title IX may not be enough for female athletes

Federal civil rights officials are investigating complaints that Yale University has tolerated sexual harassment of women on campus.

A group of current and former students claims the Ivy League school has violated the Title IX law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.

The Title IX law passed almost forty years ago, and it applies to both the classroom and participation in sports, in college as well as high school.

Enforcing the law can be tricky, as CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller discovered in the case of a young, female hockey hopeful in Maine.

When 17 year old Hillary Albert hits the ice, she says she's got one goal in mind: "I want to be a professional hockey player. It's been my dream since I was four."

Making the pros and earning college scholarships are long shots if scouts don't see her in action. Right now, they can't do that because her high school in northern Maine doesn't have a girl's varsity team.

"They told me I should have been good enough for the boys team," Albert said. "I'm as fast as them, just not big enough."

David Heald is Presque Isle High School's Athletic Director. Besides money, and lack of nearby competition from other girls teams, Heald says: "There's just not enough interest."

Heald says at least 17 girls would be needed to field a team. But Hillary Albert and her father Dennis say 19 girls are already interested and ready to play.

For high schools and colleges, it's a numbers game. To get federal funding, they must agree to comply with Title IX, a law demanding equal opportunity for men and women. But nationwide, the office of civil rights says complaints of inequity have nearly tripled over the last year. Complicating matters, it's largely up to schools to police themselves in this matter.

"We do not however have an audit process. We do not scan districts across the country or colleges and universities," said Russlyn Ali with the Office of Civil Rights.

Heald believes his school meets Title IX standards.

Maintaining an equal ratio of male to female athletes is the goal, one that many schools achieve by counting cheerleaders. But under the law, cheerleading isn't clearly defined as a Title IX sport and without its 52 cheerleaders, Presque Isle has an 11 percent gap.

To prove there's an interest, school administrators asked the hockey girls to raise $150,000 to run the team for three years.

"We would not expect to see the underrepresented sex - in this case the girls - bear the burden of complying with Title IX," Ali said.

With just a year left of high school, it may be too late for Hillary Albert.

"She's trying to keep everybody's spirits up, to keep going. We've been all over town getting money for auction. We made $3,000," said Dennis Albert, Hillary's dad, adding that the money raised thus far is "not enough to make their dreams."

Hillary Albert is watching her dream of winning a college hockey scholarship slip away, but hopes the next generation of hockey girls can score the opportunity.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.