The University of California announced Friday it has agreed to pay $725,000 to a settle a lawsuit by a former UC Davis head wrestling coach who said the university had retaliated against him for his support of a sex-discrimination complaint by female wrestlers at the campus.
The coach, Michael Burch, said Friday that the settlement was a victory for women’s wrestling and for women’s participation in contact sports at the high school and college levels.
“Women want to do contact sports — they’re ready to grapple — and some people, namely UC Davis administrators, aren’t ready for that,” said Burch, now an assistant wrestling coach at Brown University in Rhode Island. The settlement, which was reached in November in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and announced Friday, ended more than three years of litigation. Burch will not be reinstated as head wrestling coach at the Davis campus and is not allowed to pursue employment at any school in the UC system, according to a statement from the American Association of University Women, which helped finance his lawsuit.
UC Davis said in a statement that it had done nothing wrong in connection with Burch’s employment and the participation of women in the school’s varsity wrestling program. The statement quoted a campus official, Janet Gong, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, as saying Burch’s charges of retaliation “are simply not true.”
The amount of the settlement reflects the potential for the university paying Burch’s attorneys if he had prevailed at trial, and the fact that awards in such cases are often multiplied, according to a prepared statement released by the university.
“Both sides entered into the resolution at the urging of the court, taking into consideration the uncertain nature of trial by jury,” the statement said.
The settlement amount is based mainly on the potential cost to the campus of the prolonged legal action, including Burch’s legal fees, according to the UC Davis statement.
Burch was hired as head wrestling coach at Davis in 1995 and was committed to providing opportunities for both genders to participate, according to a summary of his case by the American Association of University Women.
In 2000, according to the summary, campus sports officials told Burch they could no longer provide wrestling opportunities for female students. The summary said the university cited insurance and liability concerns.
After an unsuccessful campaign to reverse the policy, female wrestlers filed a federal gender discrimination complaint, which was dismissed after an investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.
Burch vocally supported the wrestlers and claimed that as a result of that support university administrators declined to renew his coaching and teaching contracts for the 2001-02 academic year.
In 2003, he sued under Title IX, the federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate against students and employees of educational institutions on the basis of gender.