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New Canaan Lax Responds to Lawsuit [UPDATE]

NCLA letter says the lawsuit filed by former coach and board member is "tragic" and "without foundation in law."

UPDATE, Jan. 18, 12:14pm

In a statement released today, the New Canaan Lacrosse Association said the issues raised in a suit filed by Dr. Claudia Harris (referred to in the letter as Dr. Sickinger), is not about discrimination or safety of players, but a vehicle to, "use these issues as a platform for her personal gain" and "to trivialize them and all those who fight legitimately to address these problems in youth sports."

The letter says the NCLA has "gone to great lengths to provide equal access to boys and girls," and to "foster the sport of lacrosse in a mentally and physically safe and secure environment." 

"We on the Board of the NCLA welcome and look forward to the opportunity to set the record straight and bring this matter to a conclusion. Because we believe that the kids' best interest is served by speedy resolution rather than prolonged lititgation, our offer to meet with Dr. Sickinger, Mr. Harris and a neutral mediator, to resolve issues and move forward, remains open," the letter says.

The complete statement is attached. 

ORIGINAL STORY

Saying girls in the 's program receive inferior training, practice opportunities, equipment, and funding when compared to the boys, a town woman has filed a lawsuit against the NCLA claiming discrimination under Title IX.

Dr. Claudia Harris, whose daughter is in the program, says in a suit filed Dec. 9 in state Superior Court in Stamford that her Title IX rights were violated when she was removed as a coach and board member.

Harris on Thursday told Patch that she brought suit based on "longtime concerns about the inequity of the girls lacrosse experience as opposed to the boys."

She added that when she tried to bring her concerns to those inside the organization, "What I experienced, to my great surprise, is that I ultimately hit a brick wall." She said NCLA board members "sought to purge me rather than address these concerns."

A psychiatrist, Harris says she was coaching a fifth-grade team prior to her dismissal in August 2010. She alleges that an assistant coach on the team pressured her to give playing time to his own daughter and that girl's friends. 

According to Harris' civil complaint, concerns brought to board members went unaddressed, and when she persisted, she was dismissed as a coach and ultimately removed from the board.

NCLA is run by a "very small group who've been involved in this group for a long time and believe they're entitled to run this organization the way they see fit," Harris said. 

Kevin Black, Harris' attorney, said Thursday that this action against a nonprofit sports youth program "is the first one of its kind that I have been able to find."

"I think you will see this as maybe being a new frontier for Title IX as people come to understand the incredible power and authority being wielded by these programs," Black said.

An attorney for the NCLA, Robert Noonan, responded to a request for comment with a statement, which said in part: "This is the second law suit filed as a result of a vote by the New Canaan Lacrosse Association Board of Directors to remove Dr. Harris from the NCLA Board. As with the first lawsuit ... this lawsuit is without merit. The NCLA looks forward to the court ruling accordingly."

Named as defendants in addition to the NCLA are board members Marshall Jenkins, Leo Karl III, Garth Appelt, Jon Sprole, Mary Cuoco, Ian Hobbs, Steve Kraus, Michael Persky, Doug Richardson, Tom Albertson and Richard Boland.

Roger and Claudia Harris January 14, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Dear 'NCproud' We are now moving forward with litigation, after over 16 months of attempting to quietly and patiently address concerns relating to the safety and integrity of the girls program with certain NCLA leaders. These leaders have repeatedly shut down any reasonable dialogue on these supjects based on their fixed belief in their entitlement to ignore important federal and state public policy considerations regarding discrimination, as well as their fiduciary duty toward the children in their organization. Along with many of our friends in the community, we believe that our children should have the opportunity to play competitive youth sports in an organization which will promote equality, safe practices and ethical behavior, and which exists to serve their interests—not the personal agenda of a few. We believe most strongly that a culture of bullying, gender bias, and political favoritism to the detriment of the majority of those who participate has no place in a sports organization intended to promote a positive learning environment for children. We love our town and, as a result, we are taking these steps to promote a better youth lacrosse experience and a culture which is consistent with the values of the majorirty of our fellow New Canaan residents. We remain extremely grateful to our many supporters, including those whom we know have firsthand knowledge of these circumstances.
margaret rague January 14, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Since I am not conversant as to the particular facts of the case, I cannot give a legal opinion. However, I will say that I worked on Title IX for the Office for Civil Rights In Washington DC in 1977, while studying at NYU School of Law.. At that time, I closely examined numerous allegations of discrimination in the area based on gender. The discrimination was blatant, rampant, and well nigh universal. I also volunteered as coach for Little League in Darien for six years when my sons were younger and it became quite clear that that I was discriminated against as a woman in that coaching capacity. The widespread cultural discrimination that informs our country's sports area will not be erased in a few short decades. I tend to think this suit has value, particularly since a person simply would not go to all the expense, time and emotional effort of filing such a suit, with all its difficulties of proof, unless there were substantial facts giving rise to it. Nor would most attorneys agree to take on the responsibility of such a suit unless there were the appearance of substantial merit. Good luck to Dr. Harris. I applaud her courage. .
PeoplePlease January 14, 2012 at 08:25 PM
That's what I was wondering? Is Title IX even in play here?
S. Ericson January 14, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Why don't all of you people just let these kids play lacrosse and leave them the hell alone. Do any of you care what the children think? If your goal was to suck all fun out sports for your kids, mission accomplished.
joe January 14, 2012 at 09:33 PM
harris
joe January 14, 2012 at 09:41 PM
The Harris filing of a lawsuit is a mistake.they aren't entitled to much of what they demand. there is no federal funding. most of the coaches are volunteers. does harris demand parent volunteers to coach her daughter. be reasonable
L Haney January 14, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I have great respect for Dr. Claudia Harris and hope that her courageous actions lead to equal treatment for the children of our community.
Weber January 14, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I believe that the boys 6th, 7th & 8th grade boys now how paid coaches.
Sagamore1 January 15, 2012 at 12:21 AM
As to weather or not Title IX appiies, lawyers will make money deciding while NC lax image is trashed even more. I suspect that the realities of the connections between the NCLA and the Town of NC and the High School suggest rules for public entities will apply. The NCLA is essentially a privately funded arm of the towns rec department.. Instead of the Town doing it (they are baseball lovers) citizens did it back in the 80's. But they operate in conjunction with the Town of NC and at the town of NC's discretion. For example, any inquiry made to the Town related to lacrosse would be referred to the NCLA. If you wanted to run a clinic & rent fields, the town would refer you to the NCLA. Meanwhile, the A.D. of NCHS went out of his way to enlist the NCLA in securing a new coach via compensation generated by NCLA advisory fee's, clinics and such. So the HS AD and Head Coach are in league with the NCLA. Again, seems like there is a substantial connection to a public body where these rules do apply. Let the lawyers profit!
NC Proud January 15, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Please spare me the "we tried to settle" nonsense. The actual facts will eventually be known and they will not be favorable to your case. In the meantime, let the legal process go forward and stop the PR campaign that you are waging in the media.
useyahead January 15, 2012 at 08:11 AM
when people have deep pockets and big attitudes, when they're not used to the word "no," they will do anything. title ix applies to federally funded programs. new canaan lax association is a private organization, paid for by participants in the program. trying to hide behind title ix by saying they play on municipal fields, for which NCLA pays a fee, i believe, is ridiculous. again, there is more to the story. there was an initial lawsuit that has not been investigated; apparently that lawsuit tells a lot. i love how the harris' come out to try to say they have many supporters. if harris was coaching for four years and couldn't control the morale or behavior on her team it sounds like she deserved to go.
oenoke January 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM
The cost of the fields is highly subsidized.The NCLA is not paying a market rate or enough to cover the fully amortized cost, including maintenance. As a result, the NCLA is in effect using municipal fields. The reason a suit has emerged is that "deep pockets and big attitudes" exist on both sides of the dispute.
Rammer January 15, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Spoken like a true affluent white male.
jag January 16, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Harris, Just take it up with US Lacrosse and let them figure it out. Let the kids play lacrosse and don't bring money in it. This lacrosse program youth-highschool has much more drama than it needs and you are only adding to it. This is such a New Canaan thing and it is an embarrassment to one of the top lacrosse programs in the country let alone the state. You can't always get what you want the program is imperfect... BUT IT IS YOUTH SPORTS!!! Ask your daughter if she wants you to sue the program and take 15 THOUSAND dollars from a program filled with good people who volunteer their time to help out
John Wolfe January 16, 2012 at 04:24 AM
I'm sure there is room for improvement regarding the NC girls program. Anyone remember this catch phrase? "It takes a village"... when those that are "qualified" to take the girls program to the next level - they will. This is not the case here. How many that commented volunteer their time?
Joe Machete January 16, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Suing over junior high school age kids playing lacrosse? What's next, skateboarding? This is nuts. Let the kids have fun and leave the adult crap and egos out of it. Unbelievable.
T Flavin January 16, 2012 at 04:07 PM
It sounds like there were definitely problems with the Lacrosse association's treatment of the girls in the program. If they are taking money from people for their kids to participate, they need to distribute it fairly to the girls in the program too. Also I think it's shameful that anyone would attack a woman who was dedicated and trying to help little girls. There needs to be accountability from these youth sports boards...they are not above the law! Anyone who would argue about that in my mind, has got something to hide...GOOD LUCK AND KUDOS TO HER! P.S. to Dr. Harris, as you reveal the truth about these individuals, all kinds of "Goons" may try to stop you--STAY STRONG!
mary parker January 17, 2012 at 05:32 AM
I hope that if she wins this lawsuit that she takes the money she wins and buys equipment needed for the girls who play lacrosse and hopefully sees to the future of this program and not bail out and spend the money on herself and walk away from what she is fighting for.
cindyb January 17, 2012 at 02:42 PM
this town does not resemble the place i grew up, this is just another example confirming that.
Roger and Claudia Harris January 18, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Dear Mary, I can assure you that I am 100% committed to the future of the girls lacrosse program--thats why we are doing this and we are not walking away!! ANY AND ALL $ WILL GO TO THE KIDS--Making sure these girls know they have a voice, are worth fighting for, and that they are not '2nd class citizens' is what this lawsuit is about!!
Anne Nonimus January 19, 2012 at 02:07 AM
This is a country of laws not men, let the judicial process work ("this lawsuit is frivolous..." is just childish blather from someone who is obviously not an attorney. Grow up.)
mary parker January 19, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Glad to see that you will spend the money on up grading the program. I hope other programs will learn from this if you win. Like Rec. soccer, and the coaches that teach it. My daughter won't play now because of the coach she had that yelled at her on her first day. She was there to learn not scollded for not knowing much.
Charley January 19, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Add margaret rague, your intoxicated attorney into the mix and you've got your self a real winner, " New Canaan Housewives"!
Roger and Claudia Harris January 20, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Keep the faith Mary!! I am truly sorry to hear about what you and your daughter experienced. Youth sports organizations need to take these concerns seriously and have an obligation to properly train coaches...This really is not diffiicult to do if the agenda is to help ALL the kids. I am confident we are going to win this suit--we have the facts and the law on our side--one need only look at the regressed level of discourse here, from those who clearly don't want this suit to go forward, to appreciate their panic, i.e. the personal attacks, the attempt to degrade anyone who wants to have a thoughtful discussion on the issue of law, fairness and consciencious treatment of our kids who play sports...You don't need to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist to see it. The truth is, that when all the kids are taught properly and treated well, nobody loses--but when certain kids are demoralized and quit, everyone does...all the best to you!
Weber January 20, 2012 at 04:11 AM
I'm sorry, are you not the editor of this patch? You should be ashamed that you felt the need to post an anonymous email that makes a personal attack on someone. You can't think that posting something that declares Dr. Harris "need both a psychiatrist and a psychologist" news worthy. Perhaps you need to re-read the terms of what is appropriate to post.
Joe Machete January 20, 2012 at 05:49 AM
This is getting very entertaining! Talk about egos run amok. It could make a good comedy movie.
Elmcrest January 20, 2012 at 03:01 PM
This sounds like Mike Lupica's next youth sports novel. All it needs are two middle school protagonists, maybe a boy and a girl, who can fix the situation themselves while the board of "adults" denies there's a problem at all.
Jane Preziosi January 20, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Claudia and Roger Harris responded to the NCLA's statement with a Letter to the Editor of Patch, which can be found here. http://patch.com/A-qqbr
Horace Mann January 21, 2012 at 02:04 PM
An anonymous quote from a friend of LK III doesn't advance the discussion much. Crediting LK III for the success of the NC high school lacrosse program is almost as silly as the assertion that Dartmouth is at top of DI college women's lacrosse.
Siwanoy March 22, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Couldn't agree more Harriet, it won't be much longer that Fairfield county reigns supreme in lacrosse, eventually California, Texas and Florida will start really playing, and dominating, like they do in every other sport.

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