College faces potential class action lawsuit over Title IX, varsity sports cuts

0
526
The College may face a class action lawsuit over its decision to cut several women's sports after the 2020-21 year, including swimming, gymnastics and volleyball. ZACHARY LUTZKY / THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary may be facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of student athletes which alleges that the recent decision to discontinue seven varsity athletic teams violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Sept. 23, attorney Arthur Bryant sent a letter to College President Katherine Rowe announcing the details of this possible lawsuit. The Flat Hat obtained this letter from Tricia Maher-Miller ’90.

“I and my co-counsel have been retained by members of the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming teams to prevent their teams’ elimination and, if necessary, pursue a class action lawsuit against William & Mary College for depriving women athletes and potential athletes of equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” Bryant said in the letter.

“I and my co-counsel have been retained by members of the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming teams to prevent their teams’ elimination and, if necessary, pursue a class action lawsuit against William & Mary College for depriving women athletes and potential athletes of equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” Bryant said in the letter.

Bryant has a history of representing female athletes at the College. In 1991, Bryant was retained by members of the College’s women’s basketball team in 1991 when their team faced elimination, after Bryant met with then-President Paul Verkuil and the College’s lawyers to explain how this decision violated Title IX, the women’s basketball team was reinstated.

According to Bryant, the College’s decision to eliminate women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swimming after the 2020-21 academic year also violates Title IX. Bryant said that there will be 220 men and 235 women participating in College athletics after the teams are eliminated, meaning that women will make up 51.6 percent of participation within Tribe Athletics. However, data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that women make up about 57.7 percent of undergraduate enrollment at the College. Therefore, the College needs to add around 65 women to athletic programs in order to achieve Title IX equity, which Bryant says is approximately the number of women on the teams that the College is eliminating.

“Based on these facts, unless William & Mary agrees not to eliminate the women’s teams or has some plans for compliance with Title IX  we do not yet know, we will seek a preliminary injunction immediately preserving the teams,” Bryant said in the letter.

Rowe has until September 30 to respond before an injunction is filed against the College.

College spokesperson Suzanne Clavet declined to directly comment on the details of the case.

“It is our practice not to comment on either pending or potential litigation,” Clavet said in an email. “The university takes its obligations under Title IX seriously and is committed to upholding them.”

Bryant is an attorney with Bailey & Glasser LLP, a firm which specializes in commercial and class action litigation. According to the firm’s website, Bailey Glasser typically focuses on cases involving energy and finance, and has experience in successfully prosecuting and defending multimillion-dollar cases, including complex class actions.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX grants female athletes the right to equal athletic opportunities in educational institutions that receive federal funding. These equal opportunities must include equity in athletic participation as well as equitable access to financial scholarships any other program components like equipment and supplies. Compliance with the athletic aspects of Title IX is assessed through total program comparison, not individual team comparison. This allows educational institutions to provide different types of athletic programs to men and women as long as they remain equitable in nature.

Bryant’s case mirrors previous litigation at other schools. Eastern Michigan University faced a similar Title IX lawsuit after they cut women’s tennis and softball in 2018 to balance the school’s budget, according to EMU’s website.  The case reached a settlement earlier this year when EMU agreed to reinstate women’s tennis and replace women’s softball with a women’s lacrosse team in order to comply with Title IX.

This is a developing story and may be updated. Last updated Saturday, Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m.