STEPHANIE IP | The Province
April 16, 2014
The University of B.C.’s women’s softball team wants to play ball — in court.
Eighteen members of the former varsity team have collectively launched a lawsuit against the university, alleging gender discrimination and other claims, after the program was downgraded to a competitive club earlier this year following a controversial review of UBC’s sports teams.
The civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday seeks to void the results of the review, and to have the softball team’s varsity status restored, while also pushing for the university to follow through on its initial plans to construct a softball facility on campus.
Damages for distress and punitive damages, the totals of which are not listed, are also being sought.
“I think this focuses attention on the opinion of many that, despite what UBC has continued to say — that this was a transparent and open dialogue and review — it wasn’t,” said lawyer Kerri Farion, a UBC alum and former varsity ice hockey player, who is representing the team.
“People are angry, whether they’re students, athletes, alumni — relationships between university and alumni have become strained with many donors. I think this has huge implications for UBC.”
The season-long review wrapped up in February and looked at each of the Point Grey campus’s 29 varsity sports teams to see which would most benefit from school funds and resources, while others would have to rely on alternate funding.
The softball team claims that by downgrading the team’s status, the university and its athletics department are in contravention of gender-equality policies laid out by a number of national sports associations, including Canadian Interuniversity Sport, of which UBC is a member.
“The failure to include women’s softball as a UBC varsity sport is a violation of every woman’s right to the equal benefit under the law,” reads a section of the suit.
Additionally, the suit claims the downgrading of the softball program constitutes a breach of contract and misrepresentation, as student athletes were “induced to attend UBC on the representation that … a varsity softball team existed.”
Some had also turned down offers and “significant scholarships” from other schools in order to attend UBC and play for the softball team.
Dr. Stephen Toope, who is stepping down as UBC’s president this summer, and VP Students Louise Cowin are among the defendants named in the suit. Others include the school, its athletics department, UBC’s board of governors, and the provincial and federal Crown.
The defendants will have 21 days to respond to the civil claim.
“I think it’s important for people to recognize that university athletics provides students with important education to go beyond their academic years,” Farion said. “This isn’t just playing a game. It’s about getting to the next level professionally … and how people network these days.”
This story originally appeared in The Province on April 17, 2014 and on theprovince.com.