New motion in 1998 Title IX suit alleges Brown violated settlement with recent varsity demotions

Amy Cohen ’92 and a group of 12 other plaintiffs — all female athletes who collectively sued the University in 1998 for violating Title IX legislation protecting gender equity in athletics — are challenging the University in court for allegedly violating the terms of the original settlement.

The motion claims that when the University demoted eight varsity sports to the club level, it had a “disproportionate impact on women’s representation in the Brown athletics that runs afoul of the maximum gender disparity allowed under the original agreement,” according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

“The plaintiff in this case is taking the unusual step of asking Brown to see into the future to provide data on rosters for the upcoming year, and is doing this at a time when a pandemic has created tremendous and unprecedented uncertainty around college enrollments and the status of athletic competition for the fall season,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. 

“Today’s motion is a preemptive legal action asserting a hypothetical violation that has not taken place — and Brown would not allow this speculative scenario to emerge in future athletic seasons,” Clark wrote. “Brown’s commitment to gender equity in athletics is clear.

On May 28, the University announced that it would cut men and women’s fencing, men and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s track, field and cross country from the varsity roster. 

Following widespread criticism from the University community, President Christina Paxson P’19 announced that the University would reinstate only men’s track, field and cross country. 

In her initial defense of cutting these three teams in particular, Paxson argued that doing so would ensure Title IX compliance according to requirements stipulated by Cohen v. Brown University (1998). The University must maintain a percentage of women athletes closely proportional to the women student population. Track, field and cross country were the largest men’s teams, second only to football, a team the University must maintain in order to retain membership in the Ivy League. 

The University’s “decision to eliminate five women’s intercollegiate athletic varsity teams, and with them meaningful participation opportunities for women, constitutes a gross and willful violation of the Joint Agreement to the immediate and irreparable harm of the class,” wrote the motion to enforce judgement.

According to the court filing, the University failed to provide “requested production of reports, resolutions and analyses of the decision-making leading up to the determination to cut the five women’s teams and that only by cutting men’s track, field and (cross country) would Brown comply with the Settlement Agreement.” 

While Paxson pointed to the addition of roster spots for female athletes on the co-ed sailing team, which was afforded varsity status when the other eight teams were demoted, the plaintiffs argue that their calculations of proportional opportunities for women used by the University rely on the percentage of women undergraduates from the 2019-20 academic year — 52.3 percent. The University claims that projections for enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year were unavailable, according to the filing.

“Based on the numbers provided by Brown, if the five women’s teams were eliminated along with the six men’s teams originally included (including track, field and cross country), then women’s opportunities would be (depending on the year) 42.15 percent or 42.72 percent of the total eliminated — bringing women closer to equality in Brown’s program,” according to the court filing.

“But with men’s track, field and cross country reinstated and no other changes made, women’s opportunities will be (depending on the year) 66.83 percent or 69.35 percent of the total eliminated — bringing women farther from equality in Brown’s program.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Due to an editing error, in a previous version of this article, the headline stated that the Title IX suit concluded in 1988. It actually concluded in 1998. The Herald regrets the error.

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