UC Settles wrongful firing Suit

    The UC Board of Regents has agreed to pay former UC Davis wrestling coach Michael Burch $725,000 in a settlement, marking the end of a lawsuit over accusations of the university’s sexual discrimination against female wrestlers.

    Burch claimed that UC Davis’ refusal to renew his contract was a direct result of his protest, where he challenged his athletics department’s decision to dismiss two female wrestlers during the 2000-01 season from the team he coached, as well as a result of the immense public attention generated in response to Burch’s gender discrimination complaints.

    The university, however, argued that its decision to not renew Burch’s contract was not linked to his outspoken defense of the women’s right to participate on his team.

    “”There were personnel matters that had nothing to do with the women athletes; they had to do with his running the wrestling program for men and women,”” UC Davis Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Communications Lisa Lapin said.

    The university also maintains that the failure of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to find grounds for discrimination in Burch’s case adequately supported its actions. Furthermore, the women who were cut from the team “”did not have the skills required to earn a place on the varsity team,”” according to the federal Office for Civil Rights.

    Burch, however, said he does not accept the university’s justification for its decision.

    “”When you get to the end of the day, and you see everything that there is to see, the Office for Civil Rights is a fat excuse posing as an agency of the federal government,”” Burch said.

    According to Burch, now an assistant wrestling coach for Brown University, there was no clear reason for his dismissal.

    “”They refused to tell me why I was fired within the same year as being awarded Coach of the Year,”” Burch said. “”There is not a single piece of documentation that exposes an NCAA violation while I was coaching at UC Davis from 2000-01.””

    Women’s wrestling is not an NCAA-approved sport, and is not sponsored by the Big West Conference or the Pac-10, of which UC Davis is a part. The majority of events open to women wrestlers are open freestyle tournaments; Burch had sponsored a women’s division competition that ran alongside the Aggie Open.

    Before the 2000-01 season, Burch was instructed to remove two female athletes, Arezou Mansourian and Chris Ng, from the wrestling team, although Burch continued to allow the women to practice with fellow wrestlers. When Mansourian was refused treatment for a back injury because she was not an official student-athlete, the two women requested a meeting and were reinstated to the team.

    Mansourian and Ng filed their complaint with the D.O.E. in April 2001, the same day officials refused to renew Burch’s contract. Burch retaliated under Title IX, which states that no person in the United States should be excluded from a federally supported program on the basis of sex, claiming that his rejection of a renewed contract for the 2001-02 season was in violation of this federal law.

    Though Burch’s time at UC Davis had been met with numerous successful achievements for the wrestling team, UC Davis cited conflicts between Burch and senior administrators and a lack of compliance during the NCAA investigation. Their legal settlement, while seemingly large, was favorable for the university considering the potential costs of a trial, according to Lapin.

    “”Burch’s attorneys ran up a high amount of legal fees,”” Lapin said. “”For instance, a deposition of 60 people that would have required an extraordinary amount of legal time. The total amount could have cost millions of dollars.””

    For Burch, the university’s willingness to spend “”a ridiculous amount of energy”” on defending what he views as discriminatory behavior points to a more critical social problem.

    “”It’s more than [UC Davis’] failure to lead and advocate on behalf of women,”” Burch said. “”They are part of a cultural conspiracy against women playing contact sports.””

    Women’s wrestling was introduced to the Olympic Games for the first time in 2004, but the NCAA has no current plans to include it.

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