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December 15, 2022 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Gives an Assist to Soccer Player Fighting Sex Discrimination

As World Cup matches ignite the dreams of our country’s legion of young soccer players, we proudly share this news of player Noriana Radwan’s successful appeal of the dismissal of her case claiming sex discrimination by the University of Connecticut athletic department. Radwan's case highlights how sex discrimination continues to limit girls and women from achieving their full potential as athletes, but also illuminates the value of fighting back to vindicate female players’ right to equal treatment on and off the playing field. While the match is not yet final, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, citing an amicus brief filed by Morrison Foerster, recently overturned the lower court's decision and ruled that she can present her Title IX case to a jury. This is an important ruling for women athletes, whose performance is still too often judged by discriminatory standards.

Radwan was an outstanding high school soccer player who was recruited by numerous Division I colleges offering full scholarships. She chose UConn and played on its women’s soccer team beginning in fall 2014. Just three months into the school year, however, Radwan’s dreams of a soccer career were crushed. She was thrown off her team, lost her full athletic scholarship, and had to leave UConn, all because she briefly raised her middle finger to a TV camera while celebrating a championship win with her teammates.

Despite presenting evidence that UConn had issued minor or no disciplinary penalties to multiple male athletes who committed similar or more serious acts, the district court ruled that no jury could find the draconian discipline imposed on Radwan to be sex discrimination. In dismissing Radwan’s case, the district court had concluded that Radwan could not compare the discipline she received for unsportsmanlike conduct to the discipline given various male athletes for more serious conduct because the disciplinary decisions did not involve the same coaches.

The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, citing the amicus brief that MoFo filed on behalf of several women’s rights organizations. Quoting our brief directly, the Court of Appeals found that most college teams are single sex, and men’s and women’s sports usually do not share coaches; as a result, “a same-supervisor requirement would strip Title IX protections from the vast majority of student-athletes.”

Moreover, the Court of Appeals pointed out that the same Athletic Director (AD) who decided to end Radwan’s scholarship was fully aware of the misconduct committed by various male players and the nominal discipline they received. As the Court wrote, “Of the particular incidents contained in the record involving male student-athletes at UConn, no penalty for misconduct comes close to the severity of the one imposed upon Radwan. In fact, it is undisputed that, during [AD’s] tenure at UConn from March 2012 to March 2016, no male student-athlete was ever permanently removed from his team, or had his scholarship terminated, for a first instance of unsportsmanlike conduct.”

MoFo litigation department co-chair Christine Wong led the team that represented amici Legal Momentum, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues in the case. Associates Rachel Dolphin and Lily Smith and former associate Randy Zack contributed to the brief.

To hear Radwan’s story in her own words, see her guest blog and video on the American Civil Liberties Union website.

See the Second Circuit’s opinion in Radwan v. Manuelv. Manuel, No. 20-2194 (decided Nov. 30, 2022).