By ERIC STEVICK
An Oklahoma law firm that specializes in sexual discrimination cases has filed a federal lawsuit against Edmonds Community College, alleging the school is violating the rights of softball team members.
At the center of the lawsuit is an on-campus construction project that claims the women’s softball field and forces them to play at a local high school.
The class action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, names the EdCC Board of Directors and President Jack Oharah as defendants. Five EdCC softball players brought the suit, which does not seek damages.
In court papers, the softball players allege their rights are being violated under Title IX, which bans sexual discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal money, and the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The softball players allege the college provides superior locker rooms, practice facilities and competition facilities for male athletes.
Sharron Sellers, EdCC director of communications and marketing, said the college has not yet seen the lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 27.
Space is at a premium on the Lynnwood campus. EdCC is adding a higher education center to its campus where students from EdCC and Central Washington University will be able to take classes in the same building.
EdCC is working with the Edmonds School District and city of Lynnwood to replace the field used by the women’s softball team and the men’s and women’s soccer teams, Sellers said.
"The construction of a new facility created a real need for a new parking site on campus, and the college identified the current soccer field as the best location for this site," Sellers said.
The plan is to renovate and upgrade the Lynnwood High School athletic field and provide transportation for the college softball players.
The fact that the women’s team won’t have an on-campus field and must share space on a field that is not the same quality is inequitable, said Samuel Schiller, an Oklahoma attorney representing the players.
"They just don’t have a home field," Schiller said. "That’s all there is to it.
"Look at their fields," Schiller said. "What has happened is they had a baseball field on campus, and they had a softball field that wasn’t as nice but it was at least on campus. They tore down the softball field to make room for a parking lot. So they moved the girls to Lynnwood High School … (and) it’s clearly an inferior field.
"It is important to note that the girls are not seeking damages, although there is certainly nothing preventing them from doing so," Schiller said. "They do not seek a windfall, but only desire to see the problems resolved, not just for themselves, but also for those who follow them."
One of the players named in the lawsuit, Marylynne Zaugg, a second-year player at EdCC, said the team wants its own field, preferably on or near campus.
"At this point, a field that is the same standard as the guys would be nice," she said.
It is difficult to drive by the area that was once the field, she said.
Zaugg liked to work on it with her teammates for the feeling of ownership it instilled in the team. She recalled the time her team went out between games on a rainy day and bought 40 bags of kitty litter to dry the field.
The team can’t experience that same feeling with a field miles from campus that belongs to the school district, she said.
Meanwhile, Sellers said the college values women’s athletics.
"Edmonds Community College has a longstanding commitment to women’s athletics. Our commitment is genuine and meaningful under the law. We agree that women’s sports have significant educational value and that the benefits of athletics are great for both men and women."
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