UAlbany tennis players take school to court to challenge elimination

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UAlbany Tennis head coach Gordon Graham, left, reacts with Ana Glumak, Paulina Torres, and assistant coach Petra Ferancova as they watch the announcement that they are playing Oklahoma State in the finals Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

 

By MICHAEL KELLY

Daily Gazette Reporter

ALBANY — The head coach and several student-athletes of the defunct UAlbany women’s tennis team, which was eliminated after its 2016 season, have filed a lawsuit against the school and officials.

“Under Title IX and implementing regulations of the U.S. Department of Education, because it accepts federal funding, [UAlbany] is absolutely required to offer equality of opportunity for women and men in every program it offers, including equal opportunities for male and female athletes in intercollegiate sports programs,” reads part of the suit, which was filed last week in Albany County Supreme Court.

The suit lists former head coach Gordon Graham, as well as former student-athletes Isidora Pejovic, Chae Bean Kang, Alba Saia Huerta and Chassidy King, as its plaintiffs. Bernays T. Barclay, of Rimon, P.C., submitted the suit.

Listed as defendants are the university, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, UAlbany Interim President James Stellar, UAlbany Title IX Coordinator Chantelle Cleary and UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson.

Last fall, Graham had filed a gender equity complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights [OCR]. The lawsuit says the OCR “determined Defendants to be in violation of Title IX,” but did not offer “any specific remedy or require SUNY Albany to reinstate the tennis program or otherwise make the Plaintiffs whole.”

Amongst other items, the plaintiffs are seeking a “declaration from this Court that Defendant has unlawfully discriminated and continues to unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sex by failing to offer female students an equal opportunity to participate in [intercollegiate] athletics, in violation of Title IX,” monetary damages and the return of the program with Graham as its coach.

“Plaintiff Graham also respectfully asks this Court to order an injunction to prevent Defendants from permanently eliminating women’s tennis and to order him to be reinstated as its Coach. Plaintiff Graham requests that this Honorable Court order his job to be reinstated in a non-hostile environment, without retaliation, under standard contractual arrangements with equal pay and opportunities to coach the team, including equal salary, benefits, and resources necessary for his team to compete at the Division I level,” the suit reads.

UAlbany had announced its decision to cut its women’s tennis program in March 2016, citing an inability to find another conference for the program to compete within after the sport was dropped at enough America East schools that the conference lost its automatic-qualifier status in regards to the NCAA tournament.

“So the biggest part was that we sponsor Division I teams to compete for conference championships,” said Benson, who said the university had honored its contracts with the tennis team’s coaching staff members and its scholarship commitments to players who wanted to stay at the school. Tennis players who stayed at the school, he added, were also provided with court time and access to fitness centers, similar to when the team had existed.

Benson declined to address any specific aspects of the court filing.

“UAlbany athletic remains strongly committed to women’s sports programs and Title IX compliance,” Benson said.

In its announcement last year about the disbanding of the tennis program, the school’s athletic department had promised to “reallocate existing funds into areas that will strengthen their Title IX position” from the budget of approximately $365,000 that had been allocated to the women’s tennis program.

Benson said that funds had been used to elevate some part-time coaches to full-time status within the school’s women’s programs, as well as for other means to help advance women’s athletics at the school.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter

Michael Kelly at 395-3109, mkelly@dailygazette.net or

@ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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