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Lesbian Pepperdine Students Can Sue School Over Discrimination, Judge Says

Pepperdine University in Malibu (Photo by Shawn Park via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that two former players from Pepperdine's women's basketball team can now sue the school based on sexual orientation discrimination. The ruling will allow Haley Videckis and Layana White, to proceed with a lawsuit against the university in Malibu, according to the L.A. Times. Their suit claims that they suffered harassment and discrimination at the school because they were dating. The two women say that the school's basketball coach wanted them off the school's basketball team because their lesbian relationship "would cause the team to lose games," according to the suit.

White and Videckis, who left Pepperdine last year, say that staff members from the women's basketball team questioned them about their sexual orientation, tried to access gynecological records, and wouldn't process White's NCAA appeal to play basketball in the 2014 season.

Pepperdine argued that "the alleged intrusion" into the women's personal matters were not true and that the coach's questions were aimed at improving team dynamics and to "end off-court distractions," according to court papers.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson, contends that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation falls under the landmark Title IX law from 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in the nation’s schools and colleges.

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In an effort to dismiss parts of the lawsuit, filed earlier this year, Pepperdine argued that Title IX doesn't cover claims based on sexual orientation and that their allegations didn't meet the statute's standard for gender stereotype discrimination, according to City News Service. And while Pregerson initially sided with the school and dismissed the claims, he allowed the women to amend their lawsuit. He now says that they can pursue their lawsuit because their alleged mistreatment hinges on the nature of each individual's sex in the same-sex relationship.

"Plaintiffs allege that they were told that 'lesbianism' would not be tolerated on the team," Pregerson wrote in the ruling. "If plaintiffs had been males dating females, instead of females dating females, they would not have been subjected to the alleged different treatment," he said, saying that the two women have a "straightforward claim of sex discrimination."

Pregerson said in the ruling that he reversed his earlier decision because he was unable to distinguish between discrimination based on sexual orientation and that of sex and gender. "Simply put, the line between sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination is 'difficult to draw' because that line does not exist, save as a lingering and faulty judicial construct."