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A federal judge has ruled that sexual orientation is covered under a law that bans gender-based discrimination in educational programs, allowing two former women's basketball players to proceed with their lawsuit against Pepperdine University.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson found that that a 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at federally funded colleges and universities covers the women's claims that they were discriminated against because they were dating.

"If Plaintiffs had been males dating females, instead of females dating females, they would not have been subjected to the alleged different treatment," Pregerson wrote in his Dec. 15 ruling.

The ruling was reported on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times ( ).

In their lawsuit, former Pepperdine basketball players Haley Videckis and Layana White alleged that their coach wanted them off the team because their relationship would affect the team's performance, the Times reported.

Pepperdine sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that Title IX of the 1972 law doesn't cover claims based on sexual orientation.

But Pregerson cited an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision on another federal statute that says allegations of sexual orientation discrimination "necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex."

"In light of there being no federal anti-discrimination law for sexual orientation, it's potentially a quite significant ruling," said Doug NeJaime, faculty director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.