NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A youth lacrosse league in one of America's richest towns is facing a lawsuit alleging it discriminates against girls by providing them fewer resources than boys.
Dr. Claudia Harris recently filed the lawsuit in Stamford Superior Court alleging the New Canaan Lacrosse Association violated Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. She says she was dismissed as a coach and board member in late 2010 after raising gender and safety issues.
The lawsuit says boys are provided more money, equipment, supplies and experienced referees and a lower ratio of coaches to players.
"I would characterize this as a longstanding problem that was promoted by a culture where the importance was placed on the boys' side of the program," Harris said Wednesday, adding that when she and others raised concerns "we found that we hit a brick wall. We found that there was a very hostile reaction."
Robert Noonan, the league's attorney, said the lawsuit has no merit and league officials "look forward to the court ruling accordingly."
"The NCLA will let the legal process bring this matter to a conclusion and is concentrating its efforts on the betterment of the young people it serves," Noonan said in a statement.
Title IX lawsuits typically arise with college and secondary school sports. The lawsuit, which was filed last month and announced Thursday, was unusual because it targets a youth league not affiliated with a school, experts said.
"Independent sports leagues is definitely more of a newer frontier," said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women. "It is certainly more of an unusual kind of Title IX case."
She welcomed the lawsuit, saying ensuring equal opportunities is important because girls who play sports are less likely to smoke or get pregnant and more likely to go on to college and successful careers.
"The game we're talking about here is the game of life," Maatz said.
The new lawsuit says the NCLA is the only lacrosse league in New Canaan and is provided subsidized use of athletic fields owned by the town, which receives federal funding.
Harris, who played lacrosse at Vassar College and whose daughter plays in the league, says boys also are given far greater practice time, more clinics and more paid coaches. No females serve on the league's executive committee, according to the lawsuit.
Harris says she was the first coach in the girls program of the league to meet the criteria for U.S. Lacrosse level one coaching certification. She said she received many letters and emails from parents praising her coaching.
She says an assistant coach pressured her to provide more playing time for his daughter and his daughter's friends. When she refused, she said the situation turned into bullying, but the league refused to address her concerns.
The bullying involved spreading negative comments that certain players didn't deserve as much playing time, Harris said. She also said there were efforts to exclude certain girls from getting the ball passed to them.
Harris said in June 2010 she attended a coaches meeting to address longstanding issues with the girls' program. She said a league official the following month accused her of trying to usurp his authority and told her she was the subject of negative evaluations.
Harris says attacks on her intensified as she tried to solve problems with the girls' program. She says she later learned that an assistant coach pressured parents to submit negative survey comments about her.
The board voted to remove her in August 2010.
The lawsuit alleges the league discriminated against Harris by trying to portray her as "hysterical" and overly emotional" or other similar derogatory comments used to describe women who fight against discrimination. She says male coaches were allowed to continue despite repeated and egregious complaints about their behavior and coaching style.
The lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages and her reinstatement.
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