The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Blair vs. WSU paved the way for women’s sports in Washington

39 student-athletes, 11 coaches sued WSU in 1982
WSU celebrates female athletes during a recognition of Title IX’s 50th anniversary, Feb. 11.

The Whitman County Courthouse in Colfax was at the center of the college sports world, Wednesday as WSU and Oregon State sued the remaining Pac-12 schools for control over the Conference board and assets. This case was and is significant for the viability of WSU and OSU’s athletic programs, however, it is hardly the first significant college sports case to be decided in Whitman County’s seat of government.

In 1979, Colfax was the site of one of the most transformative court cases for women’s sports in the state of Washington: Blair vs. Washington State University.

It was WSU’s blatant discrimination of women’s athletic programs, student-athletes and coaches that led 39 student-athletes and 11 coaches to sue their school/employer for “unlawful sex discrimination.”

The student-athletes and coaches said their worn-out uniforms and lackluster budget, facilities and transportation were examples of discrimination as the men’s athletic programs received preferential treatment.

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The plaintiffs based their case on the state of Washington’s Equal Rights Amendment, which the state legislature created in 1972, the same year as Title IX, the federal law that requires women to receive equal access to educational programs.

Because the WSU administration had largely ignored Title IX provisions, the lawyers of Northwest Women’s Law Center — now known as Legal Voice, based their case on the ERA, according to the Seattle Times

The case was heard in 1982 in Whitman County Superior Court in Colfax. Judge Philip H. Faris ruled in favor of the WSU women by declaring that WSU had excluded women from full athletic participation and benefits for “an unreasonable length of time” but excluded the football team from the count of student scholarships and participation, meaning fewer women would receive WSU scholarships than men.

In their appeal to the state of Washington Supreme Court in 1987, the court ruled that football had to be included in the financial calculations for scholarships and participation.

Karen Troianello (then Karen Blair) found herself as the title of the case because her name was the first in alphabetical order of each of the plaintiffs. Blair vs. Washington State University was born. Troianello was a member of WSU’s track team in the late ‘70s.

“It is difficult to feel that I am first-rate when it is so clearly demonstrated that I am not considered of much importance by Washington State University, but men doing the same things are very important,” This kind of treatment has cost me more than money. It has cost me the respect of other students at Washington State University and generally makes it difficult for me to perform as well academically or athletically.”

On Feb. 11 2022, WSU recognized Troianello along with several other women’s sports pioneers in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Today, WSU has nine women’s programs to six men’s programs. Olympic sports such as track and field and tennis have attracted premier athletes from across the world and soccer, volleyball and women’s basketball have experienced historic success, including a 2019 soccer college cup, seven straight volleyball NCAA Tournament appearances and the 2023 women’s basketball Pac-12 Championship.

None of it would have been possible without the progress forged by Troianello and her colleagues.

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About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
HAILEE SPEIR, Evergreen photo editor
Hailee Speir is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Hailee is a junior English education major from Spokane, Washington. Hailee started working for the Evergreen in fall 2021 as a photographer.