Settlement achieved in the case of a Central Coast football player

Central Valley Christian prays as a team after beating Morse 30-14 on Friday night, November 30, 2018 at the CIF Southern California Division 4 AA Football Tournament in Visalia.

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A federal judge is expected to approve a settlement agreement for a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Cuyama Valley soccer player against a private Christian school that refused to schedule games because the girl participated in a traditionally male team sport.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in September 2021 by Sonya Herrera on behalf of her daughter, a player identified as EH named Valley Christian Academy, First Baptist Church, Joel Mikkelson, VCA superintendent and the church’s senior pastor, and several unnamed defendants.

At the time, EH was one of two wide receivers on Cuyama Valley High School’s varsity team, which competes in eight-person football. She was the only girl on the team.

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The issue arose during a March 2021 game — the spring football season being postponed due to the pandemic — at the Santa Maria Valley school campus, where EH played the entire game as a wide receiver with no issues.

After removing her helmet, VCA not only stared at the plaintiff in disgust “like she was some kind of spectacle,” but also changed their football schedule because of Cuyama’s player.

“This lawsuit arises from the heinous, willful, and gross discrimination against the plaintiff, an athlete enrolled at Cuyama Valley High School (Cuyama Valley), by antiquated, misogynist ideals and policies by which the defendants attempted to improve athletic ability belittle the plaintiff and deprive her of athletic opportunities solely because of her gender,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit specifically identified five claims, including a violation of Title IX alleging discrimination based on sex and/or a hostile environment; 14th Amendment Violation of Equal Protections; violating the California Education Code; and violation of the Civil Rights Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before the parties agreed to the settlement, a judge, at the defendants’ request, dismissed a portion of the lawsuit, including allegations of civil rights violations and claims against Mikkelson as an individual.

However, the judge denied the motion to dismiss claims related to violations of Title IX or the Education Code, keeping that portion of the lawsuit alive.

US District Judge Madame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong is expected to agree to the settlement in July and dismiss the lawsuit unconditionally.

As part of the $20,000 pact, the girl will receive $11,040.40 while the attorneys will receive $8,959.60, according to filings filed in the case.

Her attorneys, from the law firms of Palay & Hefelfinger in Ventura and Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP in New York and Palo Alto, also suggested that the monies resulting from the short sale would not need to be placed in a trust fund since the girl would turn 18 in the August period.

VCA and First Baptist Church were represented by the Pasadena law firm Charis Lex PC.

The agreement also states that the defendants “disclaim any liability, wrongdoing or fault”.

As part of the settlement, they also agreed to a joint five-paragraph statement ending the litigation.

The lawsuit alleged that Valley Christian Academy “violated Title IX and the California Code of Education by refusing to play football against a team simply because the team included a female player.”

“As in any litigation, the parties conduct investigations, and each side learns facts it was unaware of prior to the litigation,” the statement said in part.

“Valley Christian Academy maintains its refusal to attend Cuyama Valley High School, which was based on First Baptist and Valley Christian understandings of biblical principles governing how men should treat women,” the statement said.

“Valley Christian Academy further maintains that Title IX does not apply to them or their actions in this matter.

“Plaintiffs and defendants wish each other the best in the future and look forward to putting this incident behind them,” the statement continued.

Last fall, VCA refused to play games against Coast Union High School in San Luis Obispo County because the team had two girls on the roster.

The VCA Lions agreed to drop out instead of taking on the mixed-gender Coast Union Broncos on the field.

Noozhawk North County Editor Janene Scully can be reached at [email protected].

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