By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A youth lacrosse league in one of America’s richest towns denies it discriminates against girls and said Wednesday that a coach making the allegations in a lawsuit was involved in escalating personal conflicts with assistant coaches.
Dr. Claudia Harris recently filed the lawsuit in Stamford Superior Court alleging the New Canaan Lacrosse Association violated a federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. She says she was dismissed as a coach and board member in late 2010 after raising gender and safety issues.
The lawsuit, announced last week, says boys are provided more money, equipment, supplies, practice time and experienced referees.
The lacrosse league said Wednesday in its first detailed response that it goes to great lengths to provide equal access to boys and girls and to provide a safe environment. It says boys and girls get comparable amounts of practice and game time and the girls’ program has been given additional field time, including use of a new turf field with lights, as it expanded rapidly over the past two years.
The league says expenses for girls’ coaches were more than half the total last year, even though girls make up 42 percent of participants.
“The suit is tragic, not only because it is without a foundation in law, but because it is damaging to a program run by parents and other volunteers for the benefit of the children in our community,” the league said in a statement.
The league accused Harris of suing for personal gain. It says an earlier lawsuit she filed focused on emotional distress, while the latest lawsuit emphasizes claims of gender discrimination and bullying.
“This case is about a parent –and coach –who insisted on coaching a specific team despite escalating personal conflicts between her and her assistant coaches over playing time, a dispute which began to spill out onto the field and impact the children,” the league said, adding that it offered her a chance to coach another team.
Harris said Wednesday the league was trying to discredit her when she tried to resolve the issues without suing.
Harris, whose daughter plays in the league, says an assistant coach pressured her to provide more playing time for his daughter and his daughter’s friends. When she refused, she said the situation turned into bullying, but the league refused to address her concerns.
The bullying involved spreading negative comments that certain players didn’t deserve as much playing time and efforts to exclude certain girls from getting the ball passed to them, Harris said.
Harris says attacks on her intensified as she tried to solve problems with the girls’ program. She says she later learned that an assistant coach pressured parents to submit negative survey comments about her.
Harris said she had positive feedback form her players and parents. She said she tried to resolve the issues for more than a year.
“We’re puzzled by their response,” she said. “We regretted having to get to this point.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)