Federal office opens complaint into alleged discrimination faced by Cal field hockey team

Ethan Epstein/Staff

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened a complaint into possible gender-based discrimination faced by players of the Cal women’s field hockey team, which stems from campus’s failure to provide the team with a home field for the past year.

If current negotiations between the parties do not culminate in an agreement, the Office for Civil Rights may launch a full investigation, according to Kiki Williams, an attorney for Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco law firm whose stated mission is to fight for women’s equality. Williams has been representing players since they began discussing various legal options.

Although team members originally considered filing a lawsuit alleging a lack of compliance with Title IX — a federal law stating that no federally funded education program or activity can discriminate on the basis of sex — no such lawsuit has been filed yet. The six players involved in the complaint, according to Williams, are Monica Marrazzo, Nicole Henriksson, Kristen Lee, Michaela Swensen, Emily Catan and Jamie Stankiewiz.

Because of an issue with construction, Underhill Field, which will be the team’s permanent playing field, will not be ready in time for the start of the 2015 field hockey season, according to a statement from Cal Athletics. The team, which currently uses the La Loma Tennis Courts as a practice facility, has been without its own playing field since construction began on its previous home, Maxwell Family Field.

According to the team’s schedule, the first field hockey game to be played at UC Berkeley will be held Oct. 4. Without a field on campus, the field hockey team will hold its first weekend of competition at Stanford University and its second weekend at UC Davis.

Shellie Onstead, the team’s head coach, said traveling so frequently makes team members’ academic schedules difficult to plan and puts them in “survival mode.” She said the original timeline for Underhill’s construction was “unrealistic,” and she is uncertain as to whether the field will be completed by October.

“We just need things remedied — the sooner the better,” Onstead said. “They’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary.”

The La Loma practice facility — roughly one-fourth the size of a regulation field hockey field — faced delays before its opening in March. Before its conversion, the field hockey team had to wake up at 5:45 a.m. to be bused to practice in Stanford. In February, team members staged a protest to draw attention to their situation.

Marrazzo said in an email that negotiations are ongoing but that the delays have been an “enormous hardship” for the team. One team member, Williams said, had to postpone her graduation to enroll in additional classes because of scheduling conflicts.

According to associate athletics director Wes Mallette, Underhill, originally built as a multi-use facility, needed to be modified to be suitable for field hockey. A layer of concrete poured as part of these modifications cured unevenly, and construction cannot proceed until the resulting inconsistencies are corrected.

Mallette said that the campus is currently looking for additional locations where the team can play while Underhill is being finished and that the team’s preseason training has been extended.

“Our goal is just to get the whole thing resolved and get the field built,” he said.

The team will hold an exhibition game Wednesday followed by its first competition game Friday, both at Stanford. Mallette said the campus’s construction partners will provide an updated timeline for Underhill’s completion later this week.

Contact G. Haley Massara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.

A previous version of this article stated that Cal Athletics failed to provide the field hockey team with a home field for the past year. In fact, the campus failed to provide the team with a home field.