A Title IX lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Valley Christian Academy in Santa Maria, First Baptist Church and Joel Mikkelson, the school’s superintendent and lead pastor of First Baptist.
The News-Press learned the case is being brought by Sonya Herrera on behalf of her daughter E.H., a minor.
The lawsuit alleges sex discrimination. Valley Christian refused to play a scheduled football game against Cuyama Valley High School after it realized a young woman, E.H., is on the team.
The alleged discrimination began March 13, when the schools played a scrimmage.
E.H., a wide receiver, released her long chestnut hair from her football helmet as she walked away from the field afterward, and she heard whispers.
Mrs. Herrera, who was walking beside her, assumed the high school boys thought her 14-year-old daughter was attractive.
E.H. didn’t understand the glares — until her coach broke the news: Valley Christian refused to play the game planned for that weekend.
The team received a letter 30 days later from Joel Mikkelson, superintendent of Valley Christian Academy and lead pastor of First Baptist Church. Both the school and the church are in Santa Maria.
“As we train our young men in this world, we want to train them rigorously to admire and value women as precious and worthy of respect . . . Football is a violent game, and we understand the value of such in training our young men within the boundaries of an organized sport. However, because of the nature of its contact, we will not play a team that has a female as part of its football team,” the letter said.
Mr. Mikkelson wrote that he did not realize a woman was on the team. E.H.’s name, a conventionally female name, was published on the roster and made available to all Coast Valley League teams.
Mrs. Herrera struggled to show her daughter the letter.
“I’m pretty tough, but I cried. When I first read that, I was just beside myself. I couldn’t believe that somebody exactly in this day and age would think that way,” she told the News-Press.
Her friend told her about Title IX, and she thought about the possibility of raising a lawsuit. When she opened the letter, she asked E.H. if she’d like to contact a lawyer.
E.H. agreed with her mother. A local attorney connected them with Andrew Miltenberg, a leading Title IX attorney.
“From the minute I read (the letter), it bothered me for a whole list of reasons. So I set out to find a way to bring it to light and ask the courts to deal with it,” he said.
For more on this story, see Friday’s News-Press.
Andrew Miltenberg, a leading Title IX attorney, is representing the plaintiffs in a Title IX lawsuit.