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Woman ref sues amateur tennis for gender bias, retaliatory firing

When a Portland woman was hired in 2011 as one of the few female referees at the U.S. Tennis Association’s Pacific Northwest Section, she was naturally quite proud. The USTA is America’s largest recreational tennis organization and runs tournaments and provides player ratings for some 825,000 participants nationwide, according to its website. The Pacific Northwest Section is one of 17 sections across the nation and in the Caribbean -- including, of course, here in California.

Her excitement was dimmed, however, when she discovered the league has what she calls “clandestine policy” of discrimination against women. While male referees and umpires are routinely assigned to the most prestigious matches, even those involving female players, she says, women typically were assigned to officiate at high school tournaments for girls, despite a written non-discrimination policy. This was true even though she and some other female officials apparently had superior qualifications and higher certification levels than many of the men.

Worse, when she brought this to the division, she was essentially fired in retaliation. In a gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit she recently brought against the league and two senior officials, she claims that her boss, the area’s assignor of officials, “blatantly admitted” to the discrimination. His excuse? “Male players in certain age groups” make a fuss when female referees and umpires are assigned to their tournaments.

In employment law, excusing discriminatory job-related decisions as an attempt to comply with customers’ preferences has long been discredited as undermining the entire purpose of our anti-discrimination laws. But when the woman persisted in her complaints, her boss began pulling her assignments, leaving her out of meetings, and refusing to notify her of training opportunities.

The dispute went on for at least two years and involved too many details to fairly cover in a blog post. The upshot, however, is that the USTA -- at least in the Pacific Northwest -- is “a powerful 'good old boys' network" she contends. Her assignments grew fewer and farther between until she could no longer afford to work there. If true, this is a form of wrongful termination called “constructive discharge” and is illegal.

It takes courage to stand up to self-protective “old boys’ networks” like the one this woman describes at the risk of your job, but we can never make progress without courage.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Gender Bias, Set, Match in Tennis Officiating,” Elizabeth Warmerdam, Sept. 17, 2013

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