Judge denies

by Sarah McKenzie

A United States magistrate judge ruled plaintiffs in a Title IX class action lawsuit against the University of Minnesota-Duluth cannot claim monetary or punitive damages.
Signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon as an addition to the Federal Civil Rights Act, Title IX mandates gender equity in education, including athletics for institutes that receive government funding.
Steven Samborski, lead attorney for the four female athletes filing the suit, said an appeal of the July 23 ruling is underway. The trial is scheduled for Nov. 2 in Duluth.
The ruling states that in order to claim monetary damages, plaintiffs must have informed school officials of unlawful behavior, and that those officials deliberately ignored any wrongdoing.
Samborski did not comment on the judge’s decision against plaintiffs collecting damages. “It’s too premature for us to respond,” he said.
Soccer players Jennifer Thompson, Ginger Jeffrey, Julie Grandson and hockey club player Renata Lindahl filed the suit in U.S. District Court in 1997, claiming UMD violated federal law by denying them scholarship money disproportionately granted to men.
“I am concerned about the opportunities for women at UMD,” said Rep. Kris Hasskamp, DFL-Crosby. “But I feel UMD is moving forward.”
A 1973 graduate of Bemidji State University in physical education, Hasskamp has coached volleyball, basketball and softball for more than 20 years. She has led efforts in the state Legislature to address gender equity in Minnesota college and university athletic programs.
Hasskamp co-authored legislation to grant separate budgets for women’s programs, more authority to women’s athletics coordinators and increased scholarship money.
“I feel the suit really brings attention toward this problem,” Hasskamp said.
The Title IX lawsuit arose amid allegations of improper budget practices within the university’s athletic department. An August 1997 state legislative auditor report alleged the department funneled funds appropriated for women’s athletics into men’s athletic scholarships.
But attorneys within the university’s Office of the General Counsel say that the charge is inaccurate. The office hired their own auditor who concluded that UMD did not misuse state funds for women’s athletics.
The state report also alleged UMD women’s athletic teams received disproportionately low budgets. The Legislature allocates $600,000 annually to the athletic department in order to ensure compliance with Title IX.
Former UMD athletic director Bruce McLeod resigned August 1996 after allegations of bribery, witness tampering and bias towards men’s sports teams surfaced.
Police charged McLeod with theft for making $18,000 in undocumented withdrawals from a fund-raising account. He did not serve time in jail, but was accepted into a probationary program.
Robert Corran, UMD athletic director, said the department has been making strides in women’s athletics since he took the helm one year ago.
He also added that the department has improved the handling of the budget. “We’ve been developing a strategic plan for the department,” Corran said. “We’ve made some really positive steps.”
A varsity women’s hockey team has been added for the 1999-2000 school year, Corran said.
Corran hired Shannon Miller, the former Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team coach, in April for the head coaching position. Miller coached the Canadian team to a silver medal in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games.
Figures provided by the general counsel confirm that UMD has made some progress toward gender equity.
For fiscal year 1998, the department allocated $150,000 for women’s sports teams. In 1999, that figure will jump to $500,000.
The number of female athletes participating in programs is also on the rise, said the general counsel. In 1988, 98 female athletes competed for UMD. In 1998, 164 female students qualified as varsity athletes.