Fresno State is no longer under the nearly 25-year eye of federal Title IX investigators, university President Joseph Castro announced Wednesday morning.
In a meeting with The Bee’s editorial board, Castro said Fresno State got word Tuesday that the federal Office for Civil Rights concluded its case over gender equity, mostly in athletics, against the university.
The university had to meet 45 conditions, and Castro said that was done by 2014. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, helped expedite the review by the civil rights office to bring Fresno State’s case to an end.
Castro said Fresno State is now viewed as a national leader for equity between men’s and women’s athletics.
“While we are very pleased that this case is closed, we will continue to remain steadfast in maintaining our compliance with Title IX,” Castro said. “We want to continue to be a national leader in this area. Academics and athletics at Fresno State will continue to rise together.”
In a letter dated Feb. 9, Linda Mangel, director of the Office for Civil Rights’ Seattle office, told Castro that her agency “has determined that the university has fully implemented all of the specific steps required by the agreement.
“I appreciate the cooperation extended by you and your staff to OCR staff in the resolution of this case,” she said.
At least one former university athletic administrator, however, said the university should do more to further promote gender equity and scoffed at the notion of Fresno State being a national leader in Title IX compliance.
“Fresno State never improves on Title IX and gender equity issues unless they get pushed,” said Diane Milutinovich, who worked for 27 years at the university before retiring in 2007. “They never step out on their own just because it’s the right thing to do.
“How can you say you’re a national leader if that’s the case? Just because everyone has poor gender equality practices, but you spend $1 more, does that really make you a leader of Title IX compliance?
“Being Title IX compliant isn’t about comparing university to university. It’s comparing men’s programs to women’s programs on the same campus, and giving an equal percentage of female student-athletes the same level of experience offered to male student-athletes.”
The roots of Fresno State’s Title IX case date to 1992, when Milutinovich blew the whistle on inequalities between men’s and women’s sports at Fresno State. That launched a two-year investigation of Fresno State’s athletics program by the Office of Civil Rights that eventually produced a corrective action plan leading to, among other things, the construction of Margie Wright Diamond, the Bulldogs’ softball complex. Fresno State also ramped up funding for women’s sports and began to bring participation numbers toward gender equality.
The finishing touch to the 20-year plan was the recently completed construction of Fresno State’s women’s soccer/lacrosse stadium adjacent to Bulldog Stadium.
Title IX is a 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in education, sports and other programs that receive federal financial assistance.
Its most overt application of the law in intercollegiate athletics has been the mushrooming of women’s sports and facilities for women’s sports. At Fresno State, for instance, the softball program was started on a campus diamond with a backstop and a few bleachers – home for the program when it advanced to its first NCAA championships in 1982.
Just three years after the Office for Civil Rights closed its Fresno State inquiry in 2001, the university was slapped with a lawsuit by Milutinovich, who claimed she was forced out of her job for assisting with a Title IX investigation.
Two more high-profile suits followed.
When former women’s volleyball coach Linda Vivas’ contract wasn’t renewed in 2004, she sued the school for allegedly discriminating against her because of her advocacy for gender equality and her perceived sexual orientation. Another gender discrimination case brought by former women’s basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein came when she was fired during the 2004-05 season. At the time, university officials alleged she’d violated university policies.
A string of victories for the plaintiffs came down in the late 2000s, with Milutinovich settling for $3.5 million and Vivas getting a $7.6 million payout. Johnson-Klein settled with the university in 2008 for $9 million.
The university spent years scrubbing itself clean of the debacle, even reshuffling the offices of athletics department officials to provide more equity. Popular men’s programs like wrestling, water polo and soccer were eliminated as the university sought to balance offerings between men’s and women’s sports.
One of Castro’s early acts as president, in fall 2013, was announcing that he intended to reinstate wrestling. The university is making plans to add the men’s sport as well as women’s water polo, with coaches expected to be hired this year.
“I will say the attitude of the new administration towards Title IX has improved,” Milutinovich said. “The public attitude is better. But a lot of the functioning is not better.”
Bulldogs fourth-year softball coach Trisha Ford appreciates the effort to reach full equality and believes it has given Fresno State a sterling reputation as it puts the Title IX issue behind them.
“I think a lot of those issues, you know, happened several years ago, so we’re moving forward and moving in the right direction,” Ford said.
“I appreciate everything that has gone up to this point. But I will say that since I’ve been here, since President Castro has been here, since we’ve had (athletic director Jim) Bartko and even (former AD) Thomas Boeh, we’ve had nothing but the utmost respect (for our program). They’ve treated us phenomenally, so I don’t have a lot of insight in the fact that since I have been here, it’s been great.
“Since I’ve been here I haven’t had any issues. I do my job and the administration supports and works hard for our athletic program.”
Bee staff writers Angel Moreno and BJ Anteola contributed to this report.