The State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany) abruptly eliminated the women’s tennis program in March, stranding players—all but one of whom are from other countries and are on student visas—and violating Title IX regulations, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The suit also alleges age discrimination against the team’s coach, Gordon Graham, who was fired shortly after the team was cut.
The suit was filed on behalf of four players, months after Graham filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which resulted in an investigation that concluded the school “failed to establish that it has effectively accommodated the athletic interests and abilities of women,” according to a letter sent to Graham. In the same letter, the OCR announced what the lawsuit called a “toothless” resolution agreement with the university. It included no sanctions and did not require SUNY Albany to reinstate the women’s tennis team.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs (Isidora Pejovic from Serbia, Chae Bean Kang from South Korea, Alba Sala Huerta from Spain, and Chassidy King, a U.S. citizen) are suing to “stop Defendants from discriminating against them and all others similarly situated” and for “injunctive relief to reinstate the women’s tennis program and supervise an accelerated Title IX compliance program” as well as “monetary damages.”
The suit lays out the predicament for the women’s players, especially those from other countries:
The timing and secrecy of the decision also contributed to limiting players’ options, according to the lawsuit:
On the evening of March 23, 2016, in a surprise announcement, Defendant Benson told Plaintiff Graham that Defendant SUNY Albany would terminate women’s tennis immediately following the team’s participation in the America East Conference Championships. Defendant Benson then warned Plaintiff Graham, who had personally recruited many of the players that would be impacted by the university’s decision, not to tell anyone about SUNY Albany’s machinations. Defendant Benson said that he wanted to ensure that word of the decision would not leak to the team, the players’ families, or the public before his planned press release.
Plaintiff Graham nevertheless told the players about the termination after practice the next morning. The players trusted Graham. He had recruited them from around the world and Plaintiff Graham knew they would be devastated. After breaking the news to his team, Plaintiff Graham and his assistant coaches took the players to meet with Defendant Benson. After that meeting a furious Benson screamed at and threatened Graham.
A spokesman for SUNY Albany said they had not been served and had no comment.
The full lawsuit is below.