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The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

Speaking out costs jobs, coaches claim

Two former DVC track and tennis coaches are suing the district since, in their opinion they lost their jobs for exposing illegal gender discrimination in sports programs at DVC.

“I was told it was because of financial and budget issues,” said Peter Benko in a phone interview, on why the school chose not to rehire him.

Hunter Pyle, the lawyer of Peter Benko and Daniel Cruz, tells a different story in his press release: “It appears that DVC was motivated by a desire to punish those who spoke out, and to frighten others from speaking out in the future.”

Athletic Director Christine Worsley, cited in the lawsuit as the person who terminated the coaches’ employment, declined to comment on the matter.

The district filed a response to the charges on Jan. 28, denying all claims.  Repeated attempts to contact the district’s attorneys have gone unanswered.

Benko and Cruz filed the federal lawsuit with the Contra Costa Community College District for wrongful termination they say was retaliation against them for the complaint they filed against the college.

“It is clear from the school district’s actions that we were treated adversely after bringing to their attention that their planned actions violated federal law,” Benko said in the release.

Last year, the Inquirer reported about the suspension of track, tennis and cross-country.  After a Title IX complaint filed by then tennis coach Benko and track coach Cruz, the college has reinstated the programs but assigned new coaches.

Cruz and Benko filed complaint with both the college district and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights on April 22. Jim Bradshaw at the Department of Education press office said the complaint filed in April alleged that “Contra Costa Community College District discriminates against female athletes based on sex at all three college campuses.”

According to the coaches, elimination of the programs would have created unequal gender opportunities among the sports programs and violate Title IX. Title IX requires schools that receive federal funding to provide comparable athletic opportunities for men and women. The Office of Civil Rights found grounds for an investigation on all district campuses.

“DVC wasn’t comfortable with an investigation,” said Benko in a phone interview. DVC reinstated the programs in June 2010 in order to comply with Title IX.

In July, the Athletic Department terminated the employment of Cruz and Benko from their coaching positions. The Athletic Department filled the positions with full-time employees from within the department.

The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 1, also states that the coach’s First Amendment rights were violated and their reputations defamed. 

It claims the coaches were told directly by Worsley there would be negative consequences for filing a complaint and that the coaches tried to provide other solutions, such as working without pay.  Benko and Cruz are seeking unspecified compensation for emotional distress, humiliation and other damages.

One expert who had not the reviewed the case said claims like this can be hard to prove.  “Proving that they suffered adverse employment consequences — in this case, not being rehired — as a result is a little trickier because usually there is no direct evidence that that is the case” said Erin Buzuvis, an associate professor of law at Western New England College School of Law who specializes in Title IX cases.  “But courts will accept circumstantial evidence of retaliatory motive in circumstances where the plaintiff can prove that the employer’s stated reason is actually a pretext, a cover up for the real reason.”

On Feb. 9, both parties agreed to mediation within 120 days, though Benko and Cruz will get a chance to prove their case in front of judge and jury if no agreement is met. 

“We will not let them get away with this type of retaliation,” Hunter Pyle said.

Even with the school’s cooperation with Title IX compliance training through 2013, no sports programs are safe from cuts, said Tim Leong, director of community relations at CCCD. 

“When evaluating the budget and with more expected cuts, nothing is off the table,” he said.

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About the Contributor
Mike Alfieri
Mike Alfieri, News editor
Staff member, spring and fall 2011.

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Speaking out costs jobs, coaches claim