The first principle enumerated in "The Code" states: "Tennis is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy from all participants."
However, disagreements do happen. Whenever possible, those differences of opinion should be resolved as close to the court as possible. The best—and most often expected—outcome is that the players involved work it out themselves. If in league play, the next step would be to engage the team captains in a resolution; if questions remain, it would go to the League Coordinator. In tournaments, if the players are unable to resolve the matter, a USTA official (if appropriate for the particular tournament) might be consulted; the Tournament Director would be the next stop.
The final destination for disagreements is the discipline and grievance process. The Houston Tennis Association Discipline & Grievance Committee serves the Greater Houston Area. Matters that must be addressed at the next level (such as NTRP grievances) go to the USTA Texas Section's Discipline & Grievance Committee and, likewise, the USTA has a standing Grievance Committee for national issues.
Filing a grievance should not be undertaken lightly. It will require time and direct participation on your part, not just on the part of the Committee. The result is not a simple "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict rendered from an accusation: the actions of both accused and accuser—and their teammates, if appropriate—will be scrutinized. It is not uncommon for the person filing a grievance, whom we call the "Complainant," to receive a warning or penalty because, at times, grievances are filed with an intent to obscure bad behavior on the part of the Complainant by shifting blame elsewhere.
Structure and Scope
The HTA Discipline & Grievance Committee is a volunteer body comprised of individuals not employed by, or financially affiliated with, the HTA. The Committee undertakes its role seriously, and considers each case carefully. Every case accepted for deliberation will require a substantial time commitment on the part of all parties. Even the simplest cases that go to a hearing require approximately 15 productive hours be expended on the part of the Committee; it has addressed complex cases that required over 60 total productive hours.
In part, the structure and some procedural elements of the HTA Discipline & Grievance Committee are governed by the USTA Constitution and Bylaws, the USTA Friend at Court, USTA League Regulations, USTA Texas Section Operating Procedures, and the HTA Bylaws. The Committee has a significant degree of operational autonomy beyond those policies and guidelines to manage grievances filed in the Greater Houston area.
The HTA Discipline & Grievance Committee is responsible for investigating and deciding matters related to:
- Unless specifically limited by bylaw or regulation, any alleged violation in the HTA's geographic area of:
- The USTA Constitution and Bylaws
- The HTA Bylaws
- The USTA League Regulations
- The Friend at Court–The USTA Handbook of Tennis Rules and Regulations including The Code and Wheelchair Rules of Tennis
- The Rules for Houston USTA and HTA League Play
- Standards of conduct, fair play, and good sportsmanship in HTA-administered tennis programs, tournaments, and leagues
- Grievances arising out of or concerning HTA-administered tennis programs, tournaments, or leagues including, but not limited to, interpretation of applicable rules or regulations
- Grievances under appeal when remanded to the HTA D&G Committee by the appellate authority for further consideration
- Any matters referred to it by the HTA Board of Directors, HTA Executive Committee, or the USTA Texas Section
Unless specifically limited in the HTA Bylaws or by the HTA Board of Directors, the HTA D&G Committee has the discretion to take the disciplinary action it deems appropriate concerning any of the areas of responsibility cited above. This includes, but is not limited to: issuing warnings or reprimands; imposing conditions upon the acceptance of entry into any HTA-administered tournament, league, or activity; suspending a player from participating or attending any HTA-administered tennis event, tournament, program, or league; and, per Article III, Section 3 of the HTA Bylaws, terminating or expelling a member from the HTA.
Of note is that the HTA is a 501(c)(3) corporation and operates some tennis offerings independent of the USTA, including, but not limited to, the HTA spring and fall leagues. It is the intent of the HTA D&G Committee to normalize policies of operation to follow as closely as possible the regulations of the USTA. However, differences in operating policies exist for non-USTA offerings because there is no recourse for involvement of, or option to appeal to, the USTA Texas Section. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Player suspension for any duration from HTA-only league play; player suspension for 12 months or more involving participation in USTA league offerings may be appealed to the USTA Texas Section
- Valid Administrative Grievances (see Grievance Types) involving HTA-only competitions or programs will be filed with the HTA D&G Committee; valid Administrative Grievances involving USTA competitions or programs will be filed with the USTA Texas Section
For eligibility matters of simple fact (e.g., age, USTA membership, TennisLink registration) the Local League Coordinator may declare a player ineligible and disqualify that player without filing a grievance. Further, involving HTA or USTA league play, the Local League Coordinator may accept or reject any individual's nomination to act as a league team captain.
Filing a Grievance
Any volunteer, player, or person associated with a player (including, but not limited to, a parent or coach) who observes a violation of HTA or USTA regulations, standards of conduct, fair play, or good sportsmanship may file a written grievance according to the appropriate grievance procedures. If the conduct arises out of any of the following tournaments, the grievance must be filed with the Chairperson of the USTA Grievance Committee:
- Junior tournaments on the National Junior Tournament Schedule;
- Adult, Senior, and Family tournaments on the National Adult, Senior, and Family Tournament Schedule;
- USTA National Intersectional Team events; or
- Category I USTA Wheelchair National Championships
If a grievance against an individual or team arises out of participation in HTA or USTA league offerings, the grievance may only be filed by (a) the team captain of the team who has competed in the match where the alleged violation occurred; (b) a league coordinator; or (c) a member of a Championship Committee. The exception is for Administrative Grievances, Eligibility Grievances and NTRP Grievances, which may be filed as stated in USTA League Regulations 3.03A(2), 3.03B(3), 3.03C(3) and 3.03E(2).
There are five types of grievances. Some grievance types are within scope of the HTA D&G Committee, but restrictions apply (for additional detail, see the 2014 USTA Constitution and Bylaws, item 43; the 2014 USTA Friend at Court, section B; and the 2015 USTA League Regulations, section 3.02).
Any grievance, other than those defined in USTA League Regulation 3.02B Administrative Grievance, 3.02C National League Grievance, 3.02D Eligibility Grievance and 3.02E NTRP Grievance, alleging a violation of (i.) the USTA Constitution and Bylaws; (ii.) the HTA Charter and Bylaws; (iii.) the USTA League Regulations; (iv.) the Friend at Court–The USTA Handbook of Tennis Rules and Regulations including "The Code" and "Wheelchair Rules of Tennis" (unless modified by the USTA League Regulations); (v.) the HTA Rules for Houston USTA and HTA League Play; or (vi.) the standards of good conduct, fair play, and good sportsmanship, constitutes a General Grievance.
Any grievance pertaining to administration of the League Program at any level constitutes an Administrative Grievance. Team captains and committee members are not subject to Administrative Grievances. All Administrative Grievances pertaining to Houston USTA league play must be filed with the USTA Texas Section. Administrative Grievances pertaining to HTA-only league play may be filed with the HTA D&G Committee.
National League Grievance
The only National League Grievance that can be filed is an Administrative Grievance against the National League Administrator.
Any grievance, other than an NTRP Grievance, contending that a player and/or team has failed to meet eligibility requirements to participate in a USTA or HTA League, constitutes an Eligibility Grievance.
Any grievance contending that a player's NTRP level is lower than his/her actual skill level constitutes an NTRP Grievance. (See USTA Reg. 3.03E(1) Players Subject to NTRP Grievances.) The HTA has no involvement in NTRP ratings. Any NTRP Grievance related to tennis in Greater Houston must be filed with the USTA Texas Section.
The HTA Grievance Process
The initiating event is the formal filing of a grievance using the form and format provided by the HTA. Grievances submitted using any other format may be returned for correction.
Upon receipt by the Committee, the grievance will be assigned a Case Number and the information transferred to a Case File. The Case File is constantly updated during the grievance process and becomes the permanent archive of activities and communications. The Case File is available only to Committee members and other stakeholders internal to the HTA or the USTA.
The grievance is evaluated by the D&G Committee Chair or a designate. There are several reasons a grievance may be rejected or dismissed. One example is a claim of repeated, incorrect line-calling or foot-faults. Per "The Code," in unofficiated matches line calls are the sole responsibility of the individuals actually playing the match. The Committee cannot consider a claim of incorrect line calls. Another example is an aspersion against a player on general terms: the Committee can only investigate specific incidents and events that can be corroborated.
Similarly, there also are cases that may result in a Summary Ruling without going to a full Committee hearing. These are typically straightforward applications or interpretations of published rules and regulations.
If a grievance is accepted by the Committee, the full text of the complaint is distributed to both the person who filed the grievance (the Complainant) and the person against whom the grievance was filed (the Respondent). This disclosure of the full text of a grievance is required under USTA League Regulations, item 3.03B(2). If the grievance involves league play, it is the captains' responsibility to act as liaison and to ensure their involved players are informed, as required. If the grievance concerns a player under 18 years of age, communication will be through, if not a team captain, a parent or legal guardian.
Because the USTA requires that a copy of the grievance be supplied to the Respondent, it is worth noting that the HTA D&G Committee can assure no level of privacy regarding the content of the grievance. The Complainant should consider the content of the grievance to be public information. Witness Statements (see below), interrogatories, testimonies, or subsequent comments provided by the parties involved, on the other hand, are not circulated to anyone but members and advisors of the Committee. The Committee cannot guarantee privacy of the Witness Statements or testimonies, but it does not intentionally distribute or make the content public outside the Committee.
For cases in which there is material disagreement about the facts of the incident, or in cases that involve allegations of unsportsmanlike conduct, additional information is almost always required. The first step in information gathering is to obtain Witness Statements from all those who saw the incident/event take place; this includes any persons directly involved in the incident. The D&G Committee Chair or designate will distribute a Witness Statement form to both the Complainant and the Respondent. It is their responsibility to assure that witnesses provide written statements by the appointed deadline, usually five calendar days from the date of notification to the Complainant and Respondent.
The Witness Statement is sent via email to the Complainant and Respondent in both Microsoft Word and RTF formats to assure that all witnesses will be able to open the file. Note that the Witness Statement must be returned via email, and in a format that allows the Committee to copy and paste text into the grievance Case File. Witness Statements submitted as a scanned image or in any other format where the text cannot directly be copied will be rejected.
In some cases, the facts of the case may still remain unclear. If so, the Committee may opt to conduct individual interviews either in person or via telephone, or testimony before the convened Committee may be required.
The D&G Committee Chair or designate will keep the Complainant and Respondent informed of the status and informational requirements at each stage of the process. The length of time needed to issue a final ruling will vary per case as well as the availability of Committee members to convene a quorum.
In a criminal trial, the jury's first decision is binary: either guilty or not guilty. And that decision must be unanimous. It is important to note that this is not relevant to the HTA Discipline & Grievance Committee process.
The Committee applies the "preponderance of evidence" rule, meaning that one side of the argument may, or may not, be adjudged to have more merit than the other, and a ruling is made by the majority opinion of a quorum of Committee members.
Neither is the Respondent the only individual under scrutiny. The Committee's ultimate decision may be that either, neither, or even both parties involved are culpable.
Records of D&G cases are maintained in the Case File, and that history is consulted as a factor in determining any penalties. Prior cases involving a specific player may affect the severity of a current penalty applied to that player.
Once the Committee's decisions are complete, the Committee Chair or designate will write the opinion of the Committee, including any applicable penalties, and submit that wording for Committee approval. When approved, the ruling is emailed to the Complainant, to the Respondent, and to the HTA President, Vice Presidents, Executive Director, and the League Coordinator if league play was involved in the grievance.
Option to Appeal
The ruling stands unless either party files an appeal within seven days of delivery of the ruling. An appeal may be filed with the HTA Executive Director either in person or by email, and is subsequently considered by the HTA Executive Committee, which functions for the HTA as the Local Grievance Appeal Committee. In consideration of an appeal, the Executive Committee will evaluate the activities and decisions of the Discipline & Grievance Committee.
By USTA regulation, the Executive Committee, as the Grievance Appeal Committee, has the power to affirm, modify, remand for cause, or reject the decision of the D&G Committee. The Grievance Appeal Committee may not impose a harsher penalty than that imposed by the Grievance Committee. For the purpose of clarification, should the Grievance Committee elect not to impose a penalty, the Grievance Appeal Committee may not impose a penalty; however, the Grievance Appeal Committee may remand the matter to the original Grievance Committee or a new Grievance Committee for reconsideration. For this reason, it is possible that an appeal might result in a penalty more severe than was originally ruled.
There is no avenue for appeal beyond the HTA Executive Committee unless the penalty levied was player or league team suspension from USTA activities for a period of 12 months or longer.