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University of New Brunswick loses bid to have hockey discrimination case tossed

FREDERICTON - A complaint of discrimination over a decision by the University of New Brunswick to eliminate varsity women's hockey will proceed after a tribunal on Tuesday rejected the school's attempt to have the case thrown out.

Sylvia Bryson has been fighting to have the women's hockey team reinstated as a varsity squad since filing her complaint in 2009, a year after the team was stripped of its funding and downgraded to a competitive sports club.

Bryson, who played for the team, alleges that the decision to relegate the women's team constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex.

The university argued in March that Bryson didn't have a personal stake because she is not a full-time student and working in Newfoundland, and therefore wouldn't qualify to play, so her complaint is moot.

But in its decision, the province's Labour and Employment Board sided with Matthew Letson, the lawyer for Bryson and the Human Rights Commission, who argued that Bryson still has a year of eligibility to play and is affected by the fact there is no varsity team to try out for.

"Bryson, just as any other female athlete with academic standing, could and can still try out to play CIS hockey at UNB — if a women's varsity hockey team had not been eliminated by UNB," said the decision by board chairman Robert Breen.

Letson said he was pleased with the decision.

"There was never any guarantee that she would qualify for the team and so really it's the right to try out which is being interfered with by the fact there is no team to try out for," he said.

Bryson welcomed the decision and said she is looking forward to having the hearings resume. The hearings are expected to resume this fall, but no date has been set.

"I learned a long time ago that these types of procedures and decisions don't happen quickly, particularly now, given just the number of people involved and schedules," Bryson said from St. John's, N.L.

During her testimony before the board, Bryson said the women's hockey team never received the level of resources enjoyed by the men's hockey team, yet the university compared their outcomes such as win-loss records when the decision was made to cut funding from the women's squad.

She didn't play at the unfunded, recreational level because she said it would be insulting.

Bryson also wants changes to the gender equality policy of the university's athletics department, saying it needs to include allocation of resources for both men's and women's teams.

The university declined comment and its lawyer did not return a message.

Follow @KevinBissett on Twitter.

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