Our cover subject in the 2010 issue of Oklahoma Super Lawyers, Karen Long, partner at Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, has taken on Title IX cases across the state of Oklahoma. In 1996, an Owasso man sued his daughter’s high school district, alleging a violation of Title IX as her daughter’s softball team played on a dirt field while the school’s baseball team played in a modern stadium. An excerpt:
“While nobody would debate equal opportunities for math, reading and other core subjects be provided without regard to gender, nobody was concentrating on whether there was a legal mandate that equal opportunities were to be available to boys and girls participating in school-sponsored sports,” Long says.
Since then, there have been 22 cases filed alleging gender-based inequities in boys and girls sports programs in high schools across Oklahoma, and Long, now a partner at Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold in downtown Tulsa, has represented the school districts in 16 of those suits.
Both Long and the school districts understood the importance of the issue. “Most of my clients, if not all of my clients, are school districts dedicated to equal opportunity,” Long says. “But this body of litigation really focused people on developing a much better understanding of what equal opportunity really looked like.
“Most school districts’ first response was to say, ‘Well, why were we sued? Of course we believe in equal opportunity for girls.'”
In many cases, the conflict lay in comparison of what the district provided for each team, be it the caliber of coaching or the physical fields the teams practiced on.
“Every school district recognized that they had to take a new look at that, that you couldn’t say, ‘Well, here boys basketball is more prominent, or is more popular, or generates more money, so they get the better programs,'” Long says. “Now, school districts-as a result of this litigation-make sure that girls and boys teams divide the time in the gym and they take a much closer look to how they schedule games [for example]. They’re being much more equitable about how they purchase equipment and supplies.”
Her hard work in the cases has earned her the John Athens Award from the Council Oak/Johnson-Sontag American Inn of Court, and the importance of this work isn’t lost on her. “The settlement of these cases is, to date, my most significant contribution to the body of education and civil rights law,” she says.
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