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A former Sacred Heart University women’s basketball center is suing the school in federal court to force it to develop a comprehensive pregnancy policy for athletes, under Title IX of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972. She’s also seeking damages for breach of contract and emotional distress, in a case backed by the Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project, said lead plaintiff’s counsel Ruth L. Pulda, of Hartford, Conn.’s Livingston, Adler, Pulda & Meiklejohn. In her suit, Tara Brady asserts that male Sacred Heart athletes have fathered children with no interruption of their scholarship or team status, and that non-pregnant athletes have been accorded “medical redshirt” status, which allowed them to rejoin the team after returning to good health. Brady started at Sacred Heart, located in Fairfield, Conn., in 1999 with a full basketball scholarship. It covered virtually all her expenses, and guaranteed her a summer basketball camp job with other team members. She became the squad’s starting center, and continued her athletic and academic progress uninterrupted until June of 2001, the end of her sophomore year. Then she discovered she was pregnant. According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court March 24, Brady told her coach, Edward Swanson, she intended to keep her baby. After consultation with university officials, Swanson told Brady she would be a “distraction” to the team and suggested she return home to Pennsylvania. Upset, Brady left the summer basketball camp job, but continued to plead with Swanson to place her on medical redshirt status. But Swanson, Brady’s complaint alleges, never followed National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations to register Brady as a medical redshirt. Though out of school, Brady remained in Connecticut in the fall of 2001 and attended all home games. She noticed in December that she was listed on a program as a “medical redshirt” — but was not receiving any benefits of that status. The same month, Brady saw a cable TV program that profiled other pregnant college athletes. After a telephone conference with the university’s athletic director, Donald Cook, and an NCAA compliance officer, the school reinstated her full athletic scholarship for the spring semester of 2002. She began classes that January, and on Feb. 1, 2002, gave birth to her son, Sean. But when another basketball team member invited Brady to join a post-season scrimmage in March, Swanson told the team it was not allowed to include Brady, she claims. In April, she was informed she would not have her scholarship renewed for the fall of 2002. Still, in a May appeal before the ad hoc scholarship committee, her scholarship was again reinstated. So was her status as a team member — except that, in practice, Swanson refused to speak to her, requiring her to speak through an intermediary. Convinced she had no prospect of being treated fairly, Brady withdrew from Sacred Heart last July. She enrolled in Pennsylvania’s West Chester University and is currently a center on its basketball team. The lawsuit includes an emotional distress count against Swanson, who is named as an individual defendant in Brady v. Sacred Heart University. Robert L. Julianelle, of Schine, Julianelle & Antonnucci in Orange, Conn., is representing both the university and Swanson. The school, in a statement, maintained that Brady withdrew on her own, and was not discriminated against. It added that, as “a Roman Catholic institution, Sacred Heart University is offended that Ms. Brady would insinuate, for the sake of publicity, that Sacred Heart would, in any way, punish Ms. Brady for completing her pregnancy.”

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