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In a case of first impression, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has ruled that a female karate competitor may pursue a claim for the right to compete in world championships. U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein late last month denied a motion to dismiss the complaint of Ilyse Gellar Sternberg against the national governing body for the sport of karate. The suit, Sternberg v. U.S.A. National Karate-Do Federation Inc., 99 CV 2843, was filed last year but served only this summer. Sternberg alleges that the karate federation violated her equal protection rights under the Fifth Amendment, as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Amateur Sports Act. The case is apparently the first in which a woman has alleged Title IX and equal protection violations against a sports governing body funded in part by the U.S. Olympic Committee. It is also unprecedented in being the first private action brought pursuant to the Amateur Sports Act alleging discrimination. Sternberg, who is a practicing attorney in Cedarhurst, N.Y., had been selected as a member of the 1998 Women’s Kumite (karate sparring) Team. In 1998, she traveled to Brazil, expecting to compete for a position on the U.S. Women’s Kumite Team in the World Championships. But shortly after she arrived in Brazil, the coach of the women’s team told her that the U.S.A. National Karate-Do Federation Inc. had withdrawn the team from the competition. The Men’s Kumite Team participated in the World Championship. According to Sternberg, she was told that the team was withdrawn because two members refused to participate, and they did not have the minimum number of participants needed to enter. She alleges that the two members were actually discouraged by the coach and the federation because the coach feared that the women would get injured if they entered the championship. Sternberg also alleged that the federation did not handle her subsequent complaint in an impartial manner, tried to prejudice her witnesses, and threatened her husband. According to Joseph A. Grob, who represents the plaintiff, nine days after Sternberg brought her suit, the federation “summarily dismissed” her husband, Alex Sternberg, from his position as chairman of the federation’s Referee Council, on which he had served since its inception in 1994. Two months later, the federation suspended Mr. Sternberg from his status as a licensed official. Grob contended these actions were taken in retaliation for Ms. Sternberg’s lawsuit. Grob, a senior associate with Manhattan’s Moskowitz & Book, praised the decision to allow the case to go forward. “We are living in an age in which more and more women are involved in sports,” he said. “An organization should not have the right to pull the plug on a women’s team without taking the same action with the men’s team,” he added. Frederick M. Molod, of Molod Spitz DeSantis & Stark, who represents the defendant, declined to comment. The Sternbergs are a karate family. Ms. Sternberg has been a medalist several times, and Mr. Sternberg, who was a founding member of the National Karate-Do Federation, has been involved in amateur karate for more than 30 years. Their 18-year-old son is also a medalist in the sport.

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