46 Years After Title IX, Girls Still Don’t Have Equal Rights on the Playing Field

Veronica Ollier, the lead plaintiff in our Title IX case involving Castle Park High School
Veronica Ollier, the lead plaintiff in our Title IX case involving Castle Park High School.

Boys on Castle Park High School’s baseball team played and practiced on a well-maintained baseball field, with state-of-the-art batting cages, cinderblock dugouts, and a bullpen. But girls on the softball team didn’t have any of that. Instead, they were forced to maintain their own field (without the equipment to do so), fundraise to build their own batting cage (which other students later broke), and were even denied regular access to the schools’ weight room (which boys had routinely been given).

Legal Aid at Work sued the school – and won, forcing the school to improve facilities for female students, offer new teams for girls to equalize athletic opportunities, and establish a lasting norm of equal opportunity for Castle Park’s girls.

But the problem goes well beyond Castle Park. Our research shows that less than half of California high schools report required information about gender equity in sports. Among schools that do, girls are seven percent less likely than boys to participate in athletic opportunities – despite research showing that girls are equally interested in playing sports. Discrimination starts on K-12 playing fields and continues to the top: the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has racked up World Cup wins and Olympic gold medals, but they’re still paid up to 40 percent less than the men’s national team, which didn’t even make it past the World Cup’s qualifying round.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, federal law requires that schools end discrimination against girls in sports.

This week is the forty-sixth anniversary of Title IX, a federal law that requires all schools eliminate gender-based barriers to educational opportunities, including athletics. Here are nine facts you need to know about Title IX and equity in school sports:

  1. Title IX applies to all schools that receive any federal funding, even if most of the school’s income comes from other sources, which means it’s extremely likely that Title IX requires your local K-12 school to give girls equal opportunities on the playing field.
  2. Title IX requires that girls have equal participation opportunities in school sports. That means that schools have to provide spots on school sports teams that are proportional to the percentage of girls and boys at the school.
  3. Schools have to provide equal treatment and benefits to girls playing school sports. To be compliant with Title IX, a school has to provide equivalent resources, like practice facilities, equipment, locker room, and medical services to female and male athletes.
  4. Schools are prohibited from retaliating against students, parents, coaches, or staff who make a complaint about unequal athletic programs. For example, the school may not fire a coach or bench a player because she spoke out against discrimination in her school’s sports programs.
  5. Schools have to ensure benefits are distributed fairly among female and male athletes, even if the course of the benefit is a private donation. If a private donor, like a booster club, provide benefits only to boys’ teams, the school district must ensure girls’ teams get equivalent benefits.
  6. California law requires schools to share essential information about their Title IX compliance. Under a 2014 state law, schools must post data on their website (or their district’s website) about the gender of students who participate in competitive sports. When you find that data, check out our participation gap calculator to see your school should offering more athletics opportunities to girls.
  7. California’s Fair Play Act also bolsters Title IX’s goal of equal access to athletic programs by requiring gender equity in community sports programs run by local parks and recreation departments. Check out our Fair Play Compliance Toolkit for more information.
  8. Thanks to Title IX, the ranks of girls who play high school sports have swelled from 300,000 in 1972 (when the law was passed) to over 3 million today. But that number is still fewer than the number of boys who played sports in 1972.
  9. If your school doesn’t treat female athletes equally, we can help. Last year, Legal Aid at Work reached settlements with a number of schools to require them to upgrade their sports facilities and to provide girls the same opportunities provided to boys. Check out our Fair Play for Girls in Sports program for more info!

Does your school discriminate against girls’ sports? Check out Legal Aid at Work’s Fair Play toolkits or call our toll-free Fair Play Helpline at 877-593-0074.


Sejal Singh is a Law Clerk in Legal Aid at Work’s Gender Equality and LGBT Program and a student at Harvard Law School.


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