Michigan Athletic Group Ordered to Pay Millions in Gender-equity Case

April 3, 2008

A federal judge ordered the Michigan High School Athletic Association to pay millions in legal bills, plus interest, after its scheduling system was found to have discriminated against some female student-athletes.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Enslen directed the organization to pay $4.4 million in attorneys’ fees. Most of the money is to go to Kristen Galles, whose one-lawyer public-interest law firm is in Alexandria, Va.

Galles represented a small group of Grand Rapids-area women who believed their athlete daughters were discriminated against. In a lawsuit filed nearly 10 years ago, they claimed that high school girls basketball and volleyball in Michigan were played in seasons opposite those of colleges and most other states’ high schools.

In a ruling released Monday, Enslen also awarded interest on the judgment from the date that the suit was filed in June 1998, swelling the total payout to a current value of $7.4 million, according to The Detroit News.

“We are not going to offer any comment for at least the next week to 10 days,” MHSAA spokesman John Johnson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The MHSAA is a private, nonprofit corporation that writes and enforces sports rules, trains officials and stages season-ending tournaments for some 300,000 athletes at 1,500 member middle and high schools.

Galles, who said she has not been paid for her more than 10 years of work on the lawsuit, said the MHSAA could have avoided the legal bills if it had done what was originally asked and made sports seasons fairer before the suit was ever filed.

“I’m hoping schools will wake up and realize they need new leadership,” she said of the association’s membership. “They are lucky parents and kids didn’t seek monetary damages. The bills could have been significantly higher.”

The MHSAA has a net worth of nearly $6 million, roughly half in investments and half in real estate, according to its most recent tax return, for the fiscal year ending July 2006.

The association had an insurance policy covering up to $2 million in legal expenses. Counting its own costs, the MHSAA’s total legal bill for fighting the season changes surpasses $10 million, with the interest.

Enslen ruled against the association on every point of the suit in December 2001, finding that girls were being discriminated against in violation of the Constitution, the federal anti-discrimination law Title IX, and a Michigan civil rights law.

MHSAA launched an appeals process that ended in April 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final attempt. The changes Enslen had ordered for the 2002-03 school year went into effect last September, which included switched seasons for girls basketball and volleyball.

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