Lesbian Basketball Coaches Allege Wrongful Firing

Domestic partners and coaches at San Diego college file lawsuit

Lorri Sulpizio, former Head Coach, and Cathy Bass, former Director of Basketball Operations at San Diego Mesa College, a junior college in California, allege that they were fired in retaliation for frequently speaking out against unfair treatment of female athletes and faculty, and after being included in a local newspaper article that identified them as domestic partners.

The lawsuit was filed in California state court by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on July 24.  According to a press release from NCLR, the complaint names Mesa Athletic Director Dave Evans, San Diego Mesa College, and the San Diego Community College District as defendants.  It claims that they violated numerous federal and state laws, as well as the California Constitution.

The plaintiffs seek mandatory training for all athletic department faculty on the prevention of gender and sexual orientation discrimination, immediate action to bring Mesa’s Athletic Department into compliance with Title IX, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Enacted in 1972, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in programs or activities at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
“Coach Sulpizio and Coach Bass should have been able to continue coaching and running an excellent college basketball program at Mesa,” NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll said in a statement from the organization. “By firing these two coaches, Mesa is depriving their student-athletes of dedicated coaches who serve as outstanding role models in a sports world with fewer and fewer female coaches.” Said Sulpizio, “we should have been able to advocate for equal treatment of women athletes and faculty without retaliation. Instead, Mesa fired us both for raising issues of unequal treatment and Title IX violations.”

Under the tenures of Sulpizio and Bass, the Mesa women’s basketball team saw many successes, including a league championship in the 2001-2002 season and third place in both the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.  Also, more players on the Mesa team went
on to earn degrees and to play basketball at four-year colleges than any other women’s basketball community college programs in San Diego.

Sulpizio and Bass met at Mesa in 1999 and went on to register as domestic partners in the state of California in 2002.  Together they have three children.

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