Women's softball launches suit aimed at UBC, Toope, Cowin

The logo for the UBC Thunderbirds varsity athletic program. In February, the school
The logo for the UBC Thunderbirds varsity athletic program. In February, the school's sports review controversially downgraded women's Softball and Skiing to club status.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ready for a curveball?

In February, the University of British Columbia's sports review downgraded women's softball to competitive club status, knocking the team off the Thunderbirds varsity label and out of the NAIA, where they were competing.

Now, the team is hitting back with a lawsuit aimed at the university.

"The entire sport review has been conducted in a manner that certainly doesn't satisfy the laws of natural justice in terms of fairness, disclosure," said Kerri Farion, the team's legal counsel in its suit (The Ubyssey). "The only recourse left was to file the litigation."

Defendants named include UBC, the athletics and recreation department, outgoing president Stephen Toope, Louise Cowin (UBC's VP of Students), the B.C. Crown and the Canadian Crown.

The plaintiffs are the 18 members of the school's softball team, and the suit is asking that the university's sports review be declared void – that the women's softball team gets its varsity status back.

The suit also alleges gender discrimination and is seeking punitive damages and damages for distress.

"Athletics teaches a lot of soft skills," said Farion. "Going to university is not just about the textbooks and the exams. It's about learning how to work together and work on teams, and from women's perspectives, athletics is a way to even out what used to be referred to as the old boy's club."

Paperwork was filed for the suit on April 15, 2014. Farion told The Ubyssey that the school now was two weeks to respond to the suit.

In addition to discrimination, the suit alleges breach of contract, misrepresentation, and negligence.

The results of the school's sports review were released on February 28, 2014, and softball was relegated out of varsity status, along with UBC's ski teams.

The review approved 24 teams for varsity status.

"This review has re-energized support for UBC's teams," said president Toope, at the time of the review's final results in February (Burnaby NewsLeader).

"Our community has told us they want as many varsity teams as possible, and they want the opportunity to help us achieve our vision. We've heard them, and we look forward to seeing this translated into solid action in the months ahead."

UBC's new Thunderbirds varsity model is scheduled to come into action at the end of 2015.

Under the changes, varsity teams are grouped into three tiers: sports receiving enhanced financial support, sports receiving limited support, and a "hybrid funding" model, which gives those teams time to raise their own support.

The softball team, in its suit, is asking that it either be returned to UBC's varsity status, or to the new hybrid varsity status. (The full lawsuit is available to view below, via The Ubyssey.)

Speaking to the Globe and Mail, Farion said she feels Softball was a lamb in the wake of an unpopular sports review, led by the school's VP of Students.

"I feel that softball has been made a bit of a scapegoat in terms of Louise Cowin saving face, someone had to go," she said. "They were the latest team to come in and they don't have old alumni, the oldest is 24 or 25. They had no one to defend them at the table."

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