Female and Male Student Athletes Settle with Clemson University in Title IX Case

May 7, 2021

Clemson University, the first school in the country faced with class actions by both its male and female student-athletes alleging Title IX violations, has agreed to a settlement.

As part of the deal, Clemson will reinstate its men’s track & field and cross country teams; add a new women’s varsity team; give men and women equal opportunities to participate; provide women with equal athletic financial aid, treatment, and benefits; work with an outside Monitor to develop a Gender Equity Plan; and bring all aspects of its intercollegiate athletics program into compliance with Title IX.

This is the first time in the statute’s nearly-50-year history that male and female student-athletes have threatened to sue together to enforce it—and the first time Title IX has ever been used to win equality for men, according to Arthur Bryant of Bailey Glasser’s Oakland, CA office, the lead counsel for the male student-athletes

“We are thrilled that Clemson’s courageous male and female student-athletes stood up for their rights and forced Clemson to treat them equally and comply with Title IX,” said Bryant. “As these historic settlement agreements show, Title IX guarantees all student-athletes equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment. If schools don’t provide that, they will be held accountable.”

Lori Bullock of Newkirk Zwagerman, P.L.C., in Des Moines, IA, was lead counsel for the female student-athletes.

In addition to Bryant, the legal team for the male student-athletes includes Bailey Glasser’s Cary JoshiJoshua HammackBritney Littles, and Elliott McGraw in Washington, DC; Elizabeth Ryan in Boston, MA; Nicole Ballante in St. Petersburg, FL; Laura Babiak and Alisa Montgomery in Charleston, WV; and Bill Nettles of the Law Offices of Bill Nettles in Columbia, SC.

The two threatened Title IX lawsuits were prompted by Clemson’s announcement on November 5, 2020, that it was eliminating the men’s varsity intercollegiate track & field and cross country teams at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The teams’ elimination was a clear violation of Title IX, which, among other things, prohibits educational institutions like Clemson from eliminating teams for which interest, ability, and competition are available unless “intercollegiate level participation opportunities for male and female students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.” (44 Fed. Reg. 71418 – Jan. 16, 1996).

On March 12, 2021, Bryant wrote to Clemson President James P. Clements on behalf of the men’s team members and noted that, if Clemson eliminated the teams, it would fail this test. He threatened a class action on behalf of all male student-athletes and potential student-athletes at the school unless Clemson complied with Title IX and provided men with equal opportunities to participate.

On March 15, 2021, Bullock wrote to Clements on behalf of women’s rowing, cross country, and track & field team members and informed him that, according to U.S. Department of Education data, the female student-athletes were not receiving equal athletic financial aid, treatment, or benefits. She said the women supported the male athletes’ claims and would file their own class action on behalf of all female student-athletes and potential student-athletes unless the school complied with Title IX.

According to the publicly available data for 2019-20, the school’s intercollegiate varsity athletic teams had 312 men and 318 women, or 50.48% women. That year, Clemson provided $16,859,840 in athletic financial aid, and only $6,650,912—or 39%—to female student-athletes. This equated to depriving women of at least $1.8 million in athletic financial aid just that year.

Separate and apart from the Title IX sex discrimination settlements, Clemson is also the subject of a Title VI race discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the elimination of the men’s track, field, and cross country teams discriminates against Black men. The settlements do not involve that complaint, which is still pending.

The Clemson Title IX settlements are similar to agreements Bryant, Bullock, and their co-counsel reached with Dartmouth University in late January 2021, East Carolina University in early January 2021, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in December 2020, and William & Mary College in October 2020. Bryant, Bullock, and their co-counsel also reached a Title IX settlement reinstating eliminated teams with Brown University in September 2019. Bryant has successfully represented more student-athletes and potential student-athletes in Title IX litigation against schools and universities than any lawyer in the country.

Clemson’s Response

Clemson couched the decision as follows:

“The decision comes after revised financial projections show the impacts of COVID-19, while significant, did not harm the University in as drastic a way as anticipated. Last fall, facing significant financial challenges due to COVID-19, the difficult decision to end men’s track & field and cross country was deemed the most prudent path forward. Today, significant contributions from philanthropic fundraising, along with state and federal financial support and appropriations, have positioned the University and the Athletics Department to reconsider its decision. Their generosity allows Clemson to reinvest in supporting the men’s track programs and to expand its women’s sports offerings. …

“While in recent years the Department of Athletics has added women’s golf and softball, the University has also seen rapid growth in its female student population. In 2011, Clemson’s student population was 54.3 percent male. In the Fall 2021 semester, female students are expected to outnumber males for the first time. …

“Clemson agreed with attorneys to conduct a gender equity review of its intercollegiate athletics program to develop, adopt and implement a new Gender Equity Plan to strengthen Clemson’s support for its championship women’s sports programs. The Plan will be completed no later than July 1, 2022 and will be designed to ensure that Clemson maintains, improves, and achieves Title IX compliance across all aspects of its intercollegiate athletics program.  The Plan will be implemented as quickly as possible, with all aspects of Clemson’s intercollegiate athletics program in compliance with Title IX by the 2023-24 academic year and in future years. As the world of intercollegiate athletics continue to evolve, Clemson will maintain flexibility with how to achieve gender equity and Title IX compliance.

“Today, we celebrate the Clemson’s men’s and women’s outdoor track & field student-athletes as they work toward team and individual championships this spring and into the future.”

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