California Lawyer magazine announced that partner Erin Witkow would be among the recipients of its 2015 Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award for her role on a trial team that advocated for the rights of female students athletes in Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School District, et. al. The recipients will be featured in California Lawyer's March 2015 issue.
Since 2008, Manatt has represented a group of female high school softball players on a pro bono basis alongside the California Women's Law Center and the Legal Aid Society/Employment Law Center in a Title IX class action against Eastern San Diego County's Sweetwater Union High School District. The evidence throughout trial detailed the disproportionate athletic opportunities for girls compared to boys, as well as the consistently inferior quality of playing and practice facilities for the girls' sports, compared to those provided for boys' teams.
In 2009, U.S. District Court Judge M. James Lorenz found that the school district violated Title IX by failing to provide girls with equal athletic participation opportunities at Castle Park High School. In 2012, after a ten-day trial, Judge Lorenz also found that the School District violated Title IX by failing to provide girls with equal athletic facilities, coaching and publicity, among other things.
On appeal, partner Joanna McCallum and other members of an appellate team achieved a landmark 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, upholding a precedent-setting Title IX victory for female high school athletes. On September 19, 2014, the Ninth Circuit - in a 46-page published unanimous opinion - affirmed the trial court's ruling that Sweetwater Union High School District is out of compliance with Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.
This was the first Title IX K-12-level case to go to trial. Although college-level Title IX cases are fairly common and highly publicized, discrimination is just as likely to occur at the K-12 level and often goes unchecked. In fact, the School District argued on appeal that the standard of girls sports facilities outlined in the ruling did not apply in high school sports.
The Manatt appellate team included partners Joanna McCallum, John Libby, and Erin Witkow. The trial team was led by partners Witkow and Yoanna Binder, and included senior paralegal Lindy Willingham, associates Alison White and Leah Adams, and junior practice support analyst Cristy Pallares.