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Does Title IX Protect a Male Coach From Discrimination Against His Women’s Team?

A district court in New York has determined that a male coach may pursue a Title IX claim arising out of the elimination of the women’s team he coached.
Gordon Graham was the women’s tennis coach at State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany. In his fifth year of coaching, Coach Graham was informed that his team was going to be shut down and was asked not to disclose this information to the team. Ignoring this instruction, Mr. Graham shared the news and the Athletic Director became very angry. After the team was eliminated, Mr. Graham was given administrative tasks and no professional coaching opportunities. Some age-related comments were allegedly made about him and within a couple of months, he was advised that his contract would not be renewed.
Mr. Graham, along with four of his players, brought suit alleging gender bias in violation of Title IX. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination by federally funded educational institutions. The standard for bringing a Title IX claim is the same burden of proof as required by a Title VII plaintiff. SUNY Albany sought to dismiss Mr. Graham’s claims because the sex discrimination alleged was not directed towards him but rather the female tennis players. According to the court, the first criteria Mr. Graham must meet was individual harm. He met this element by arguing that he was a victim of SUNY Albany’s sex discrimination because it cost him his job coaching women. A previous New York district court decision held that:

“[t]he prohibition of discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ is broad enough to encompass a prohibition of discrimination against plaintiff on the basis of the sex of the players whom he coached.”

In accordance with that holding, the court held Mr. Graham may continue to pursue his discrimination claim under Title IX.