Cuesta College’s decision to drop its women’s tennis program over the summer has spurred complaints that could result in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, as well as potential lawsuits.
Diane Milutinovich — a notable Title IX expert and former Fresno State University administrator who reached a $3.5 million settlement with the university after filing a gender discrimination lawsuit in 2006 — said she faxed a complaint against Cuesta to the Office of Civil Rights on Saturday.
Former Cuesta women’s tennis coach Mike Napoli said Monday he planned to follow suit.Enacted by Congress in 1972, Title IX forbids gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. In sports, the law has been interpreted to require equal opportunities for male and female athletes.
Milutinovich, who heard about the Cuesta situation and decided to volunteer her time, spoke at the most recent Cuesta Board of Trustees meeting earlier this month, warning of the potential for investigation and litigation. She filed her complaint after fearing she was not taken seriously.
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Cuesta interim President Gil Stork said the topic is on the agenda for the next board meeting in February — where athletic director Bob Mariucci will diagnose his department’s current compliance status with Title IX.
Stork said that if the numbers reveal Cuesta to be in violation, adjustments will be made to change that.
“I didn’t feel that the president or the board of trustees was going to take a serious look at it,” Milutinovich said. “So, I felt there was no other way to find an opportunity for the women’s tennis players.
“They should have done the work prior to dropping the team, and they’re going to take another two or three months. I decided that was too long to wait to address the wrong.”
Because Cuesta has already begun its spring schedule, it is too late to bring women’s tennis back this year.
But Milutinovich and Napoli, who retired after 22 years as coach prior to the cut but has since offered to return, are aiming to see the program come back.
The team was originally dropped in a flurry of cutbacks that came after the state announced budget cuts last year.
Stork said cuts could be worse this year and fears that more programs — in and out of athletics — would have to be dropped.
“One of the things I had to do as a dean this last fall was ... cut 140 sections of classes out of the schedule,” said Stork, who was serving as the interim dean of workforce and economic development prior to taking his current role.
“That impacted the lives of probably 500 students in terms of either eliminating what they had to take or changing their schedule so drastically that they were not able to meet their 12 units for financial aid or medical insurance or car insurance.”
Stork said the $30,000 cut to a roster of eight active players was one that affected a low number of students.
Milutinovich and Napoli say Cuesta’s move to drop a women’s tennis program from a department that they allege was already proportionally underrepresenting women showed blatant disregard by the college for Title IX.
At the center of the complaints is Cuesta’s admission of not having a Title IX compliance coordinator, a position that is required by law to receive federal funding.
It’s a Title IX coordinator’s duty to field internal complaints about violations, and Napoli did not have one to appeal to. It’s a situation Milutinovich, who spent 27 years as a coach and administrator at Fresno State, said she’s never encountered.
“The fact is that the program wasn’t given any due process to be eliminated,” Napoli said, “and it left me without an ability to complain about it to anybody because we didn’t have a compliance officer.”