We Got Game
Flaster/Greenberg obtained final approval of a sweeping settlement of a Title IX action, as co-counsel with the Women’s Law Project, representing the Women’s Equestrian Team at Delaware State University (DSU). Fifteen female student-athletes, members of DSU’s women’s equestrian team, filed a class action suit challenging the university’s elimination of their team at the conclusion of the 2009-2010 academic year.
The student-athletes brought the lawsuit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs, and specifically applies to athletic programs. Title IX requires equity in scholarships, accommodation of athletic interests and abilities, and treatment.
In less than a year after DSU announced the elimination of women’s equestrian, the plaintiffs’ legal team negotiated a comprehensive, far-reaching agreement that required, among other things, full participation compliance by DSU no later than 2013, and a commitment for increased recruitment money for female athletes at the University, as well as mandatory Title IX training for all athletic personnel at DSU. According to one of the student-athletes, the agreement’s “significance to women on the [DSU] campus can’t be overstated.”
The plaintiffs charged DSU with violating Title IX by failing to provide its female students with equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and sought immediate reinstatement of the equestrian team. Many of the team members were recruited by DSU and gave up other opportunities and scholarships to compete on its equestrian team. As one plaintiff stated, “The equestrian team was my sole reason for attending Delaware State, and I expected to ride for four years.”
The loss of the team would have left the students without the opportunity to participate on the team that brought them to DSU in the first place. It also would have impaired their ability to achieve their career goals of therapeutic training, coaching, and other equestrian-related fields.
According to the plaintiffs, DSU has a long history of non-compliance with Title IX, and has consistently failed to provide women with athletic opportunities in proportion to their share of the full time student undergraduate student population, as mandated by law. Eliminating the equestrian team, a team added only four years ago for the express purpose of addressing the university’s known non-compliance with Title IX, only increases the existing inequality in athletic opportunity.
The student-athletes brought the lawsuit in February of 2010; in April, the Court entered an order continuing the women's equestrian team through the end of the 2010-11 academic year; and in July, granted class action status to the lawsuit.
The Court certified a class of “all present, prospective and future DSU female students, including currently enrolled students, students admitted for the 2010-11 academic year, and prospective students who participate, seek to participate, or have been deterred or prevented from participating in or obtaining the benefits of, intercollegiate athletics sponsored by DSU.”
DSU additionally agreed to provide documentation to allow plaintiffs’ counsel to monitor compliance. Plaintiff’s counsel were also awarded nearly $500,000 in fees and costs.