By Gregg Clifton, of Jackson Lewis
St. Cloud State University violated Title IX by providing fewer opportunities for women to compete in intercollegiate athletics while offering greater support to the school’s men’s athletic teams, a federal district court judge in Minnesota has ruled. Portz et al. v. St. Cloud State University et al., No. 0:16-cv-01115 (D. Minn. Aug. 1, 2019).
The court ordered the University to immediately create gender equity within its athletic programs.
In 2016, the university decided to eliminate six men’s and women’s athletic programs, including tennis, women’s skiing, and men’s cross country. Ten female athletes sued the school alleging the school was biased toward men’s sports and out of compliance with the gender equity requirements Title IX. The female athletes sought and secured an injunction temporarily securing continuation of the women’s tennis and skiing programs.
In his 66-page order, Judge John R. Tunheim concluded the school has consistently provided greater opportunities for male student-athletes from 2003-2016, giving them up to 172 more opportunities in one year during this 14-year period. Despite the school’s efforts to close this gap and reducing it to less than 50 opportunities in 2017 and 2018, the Judge concluded the school’s efforts were insufficient. Judge Tunheim stated that “[w]omen’s participation opportunities have not consistently increased in more than a decade and significant disparities exist” in the treatment of men’s and women’s teams.
The Judge concluded that the school’s decision to eliminate the women’s sports was financially motivated, despite the fact that enough female students supported teams. Noting that the school had not added any intercollegiate programs for women since 1999, the Judge rejected the school’s claim of lack of interest. He noted specific requests to elevate club sports teams to the intercollegiate competition level and survey results showing “great interest” by female students.
Judge Tunheim also found the men’s teams are treated more favorable than every women’s team. For example, he pointed out that the men’s basketball team was given new uniforms each year and permitted to keep them, while the women’s team had one set of uniforms that was used multiple years and required to be returned to the school. The Judge also concluded the men’s teams travel more frequently, with all costs covered by the school, while the women student-athletes rarely travel and frequently rely on their own fundraising efforts to cover their costs.
The Judge also concluded that facilities provided to the women were inferior and they had to maintain their own softball and baseball fields. In addition, while all of the athletes share the same trainer, the athletic trainer was located in the men’s locker room, which affect how quickly the athlete can receive access and assistance from the trainer.
The Judge ordered the school to take immediate steps to create more equity for female students, including the permanent maintenance of the skiing and tennis teams. In addition, he ordered the school to improve the practice, competitive, and locker room facilities to create comparable facilities for men and women, and to continue moving toward eliminating the gap in participation opportunities. The school must report on the University’s compliance efforts every six months.