DAVIS (CBS13/AP) — The University of California, Davis has agreed to pay more than $1.3 million to attorneys representing three women who had filed gender discrimination claims because the campus did not offer a women's wrestling team, officials said Thursday.
The settlement came after a federal judge in Sacramento ruled on a broader question in August and found that the university had violated Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 that requires equal athletic opportunities for men and women.
U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell rejected the women's individual discrimination claims but found that the university had reduced athletic opportunities for all women during the time the plaintiffs were enrolled.
Lauren Mancuso, Arezou Mansourian and Christine Wing-Si Ng sued in 2003 after the university eliminated more than 60 opportunities for women to participate in athletics between the 1998-99 and 2004-05 academic years. Most of the missed opportunities were from the loss of junior varsity teams for women's water polo and women's lacrosse.
"I'm very proud of this settlement," Mancuso told CBS13. "It's a bittersweet win because it shouldn't have taken this long."
The three women wrestled competitively in high school and enrolled at UC Davis with hopes of making the varsity wrestling squad. But the university said they had to compete against men of the same weight class to make the team after the women's team was cut after the 2000-2001 academic year.
"I went to Davis with the belief that I was going to be able wrestle there," Mancuso said.
At the time, no four-year California colleges had an all-women's intercollegiate wrestling team, and Damrell noted that the women either declined to try out for the men's squad or could not make the cut.
The Title IX violation came in response to the lost opportunities in established women's sports.
Even though the judge found the women had not been discriminated against, lawyers representing the plaintiffs called the settlement a victory for women in campus athletics.
Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates, one of the attorneys representing the former UC Davis students, called the settlement "the final chapter in a precedent-setting Title IX case."
The lawsuit is among many filed nationally since federal law banned sex discrimination in athletic programs. Title IX has led to complaints and lawsuits by and against coaches and other university employees, including four UC Davis employees who were dismissed from the wrestlers' lawsuit.
Lawyers representing the three women said the university previously created a fund that has given more than $70,000 in grants to female athletes, and increased the number of women participating in campus athletics. They said the students also won a procedural battle with a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during the course of the lawsuit.
The university's attorney, Nancy Sheehan, said none of the settlement money is going to the women because they were not entitled to damages. She said the $70,000 was paid in a different Title IX case, and that the university was increasing women's athletic opportunities anyway.
"There is no money being paid to the plaintiffs at all," Sheehan said. "They are settling for attorneys' fees and going home."
Jim Sturdevant, another attorney for the three women, criticized the university for spending millions of dollars to fight the lawsuit. Sheehan said the university is paying less in attorneys' fees than would likely have been required had a judge made the decision.
Before the settlement, the damages phase of the trial on the Title IX claim was scheduled to start next month.
Mansourian said in a statement issued through her attorneys that her nine-year fight to increase women's right to participate in college athletics "has been worth the battle."
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)
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