A federal court has preliminarily approved a settlement agreement between Brown University and lawyers representing women student-athletes at the school who brought a class-action lawsuit in June following cuts to the varsity athletics program. The suit, filed in June by counsel from the ACLU of Rhode Island, Public Justice and two private law firms, alleged that the cuts violated a consent agreement that the University entered more than two decades ago to comply with Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal access to athletic programs for female athletes.
Under the Order entered by U.S. District Judge John McConnell, Jr., members of the lawsuit class, consisting of “all full-time female undergraduate students currently enrolled at Brown, as well as female undergraduate students who are currently on leave or who have deferred matriculation for the current academic year,” will have until November 24th to raise objections to the settlement. A “fairness hearing” on whether to approve the settlement is scheduled to be held on December 15.
Under the proposed settlement, Brown has agreed to:
• Reinstate its women’s varsity equestrian and fencing teams;
• Maintain full support for those teams and not to reduce future support as compared to men’s teams’ support; and
• Not eliminate or reduce the status of any women’s varsity team or add any men’s team for at least the next four years, during which time the University will be required to comply with the consent decree it agreed to in 1998.
The consent decree will expire on August 31, 2024, but the University must still ensure equal opportunities in its athletics programs under Title IX.
The lawsuit was handled by attorneys Lynette Labinger, cooperating counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island; Leslie Brueckner of Public Justice; Arthur Bryant with the law firm of Bailey & Glasser; and Jill Zwagerman and Lori Bullock of Newkirk Zwagerman in Des Moines, IA.
Earlier this year, Brown announced it was eliminating five varsity women’s teams, a decision that violated the 1998 court-ordered requirement that “intercollegiate level participation opportunities for male and female students” be provided “in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.” The cuts announced by Brown would have resulted in a disproportionate impact on women’s sports participation in violation of the original consent decree. The proposed settlement agreement was reached by the parties last week as a result of court-ordered mediation.
A copy of the terms of the settlement agreement, along with background information on the case, Cohen v. Brown University, can be found here.