Civil Rights representatives to visit Cuesta over cancellation of women's tennis

A federal agency will investigate allegations that Cuesta College violated a law that prevents gender discrimination when it dropped its women’s tennis program last summer.

An attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will visit the college during the first week of May to examine complaints filed against the school regarding Title IX compliance. 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.

The complaints against Cuesta were filed with the Education Department in late January by Title IX expert Diane Milutinovich, former Cuesta women’s tennis coach Mike Napoli and a tennis player.

The Office of Civil Rights investigates all complaints of alleged discrimination at institutions over which it has jurisdiction.

Milutinovich said she hopes the visit will spur Cuesta to reinstate the tennis program.

“I have said from the beginning that it is important to have a neutral party come in and determine if Cuesta College is in compliance,” Milutinovich said. “I firmly believe that the college is out of compliance and did not do its due diligence and look at other options besides dropping a women’s sport.”

Representatives will be on campus to determine the validity of the complaints and conduct interviews with college faculty, staff, advisers, student athletes and members of the public.It was unclear Monday when the investigation will be complete.

Milutinovich, who has no direct ties to the college, is a former Fresno State administrator. She said she filed the complaint in order to get the team reinstated.

“I have nothing to gain from this except helping young women have opportunities,” she said.

Cuesta College has about 300 student athletes in a variety of sports.

“Over the years, Cuesta College has been committed to adhering to Title IX compliance, and it is our intent to continue that commitment,” Athletic Director Bob Mariucci said in a news release. “We are extremely proud of the many accomplishments and continued success of the athletic programs at Cuesta.”

Cuesta suspended the women’s tennis team to save an estimated $30,000 in a flurry of cutbacks after the state announced budget cuts last year.

Napoli has previously said that he did not have anyone to appeal the decision to when the program was eliminated because Cuesta did not have a Title IX compliance coordinator at the time.

That position — required by law to receive federal funding — is now held by Laura Cyphers-Benson, the college’s interim director of human resources who was hired March 22.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.

How to comment on Title IX at Cuesta

Community members who wish to comment on the athletic opportunities provided by Cuesta College can contact civil rights attorney Zachary Pelchat at 415-486-5542 or at Zachary.Pelchat@ed.gov.

Comments can also be provided in writing to Zachary Pelchat, civil rights attorney, U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 50 Beale St., Suite 7200, San Francisco, CA 94105. More information about the Office of Civil Rights and the investigative process is available at www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/process/index.html.