A school in Santa Maria has been charged with sex discrimination after refusing to play football against a rival team with a female player, according to a complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday.

In a complaint filed with the United States District Court for the Central District of California, plaintiff Sonya Herrera accused Valley Christian Academy of violating Title IX law after the private school changed its schedule to avoid playing Cuyama Valley High School the coming season because her daughter is a member of the team.

The complaint was filed after Alfonso Gamino, principal of the school district of Cuyama Joint Union High School, received a letter following a March 13 scrimmage with VCA, explaining that VCA will not play against the Cuyama Joint Union High School. Cuyama because of the female member identified as “EH” in the lawsuit. because of his age.

“[Valley Christian Academy] made it clear to the Complainant, among others, that their refusal to play for the Cuyama Valley High School football team was for no reason other than their intentional discriminatory animosity against the Complainant on the basis of her gender ” , according to the lawsuit.

Title IX is federal law which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs. VCA is a member of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees athletics in public and private high schools in the state, and includes a condition that it must comply with Title IX.

The lawsuit alleges five causes of action, including violations of state and federal civil rights laws, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Additionally, the lawsuit lists the First Baptist Church, which includes VCA in its parish, Joel Mikkelson, the senior pastor and principal of the school, and Does 1-30, who are anonymous people whom the plaintiffs believe are “responsible. one way or another ”of the alleged discrimination.

On Thursday, a former student filed a lawsuit against Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, alleging negligence in hiring a teacher who was ultimately convicted of sexually abusing him and sentenced to jail in 2008.

Plaintiffs seek jury trial and unspecified damages for loss of educational and career opportunities, reputation, welfare, attorney fees and an injunction preventing VCA from discriminating against athletes secondary education on the basis of gender.

In a telephone statement, Mikkelson said he had “no idea” that the lawsuit had been filed, but said he was aware of the situation described in the lawsuit and did not believe that there was a problem because Cuyama had already found a team. other than VCA to play this fall.

The plaintiffs allege that VCA violated CIF rules, which allow women to compete on teams with men in sports such as baseball or football, according to the lawsuit.

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In the 2020-21 academic year, Cuyama Valley had an eight-man soccer team, as opposed to the 11 players who are normally on the pitch during a game.

Plaintiff EH had shown “exceptional talent” in male-dominated sports and had distinguished herself in college football trials, which earned her a receiver position with the team as the only one. woman, according to the lawsuit.

“As one of only two receivers for the Cuyama Valley football team, the complainant took her position seriously,” the lawsuit said, adding that she “trained vigorously and prepared. “over the summer for the coming season.

During the scrum on March 13, the Cuyama Valley team traveled to Santa Maria for a scheduled game against the VCA.

Although no one on Team VCA would know the player was female because her helmet was on throughout the game, Cuyama Valley’s roster was publicly available online and included a name “associated with a female person. “, according to the lawsuit.

The complainant said no issues arose during the game until the very end.

When EH removed her helmet, the defending coaches and administrators glared while “shaking her head in disbelief” as she left the field, according to the lawsuit.

After the match, Mikkelson wrote a letter to Gamino blocking future matches with Cuyama Valley because of the player and citing a VCA policy that prohibits physical contact between boys and girls at school.

“Football is a violent game and we understand the value of it in training our young men within the confines of organized sport,” according to the undated letter, which also quotes Bible verses. “We mean no ill will towards Cuyama Valley High School or any of its students or their families.”

Defendants have 21 days to respond on formal notice of the lawsuit, according to court documents.

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