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March 13, 2024 | DiscriminationDispute

University of Oregon Faces Title IX Lawsuit

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Author(s)
Olivia Loftin

Associate Attorney

The University of Oregon is facing a Title IX lawsuit brought by past and current athletes on the women’s varsity beach volleyball team and current athletes on the club rowing team.  These groups allege that the NCAA Division I University provides male varsity student-athletes with better treatment, better benefits, more athletic financial aid, and greater opportunities for athletic participation than it provides female varsity student-athletes.

Why Did These Student Athletes Sue the University of Oregon?

The beach volleyball plaintiffs allege in their complaint, filed on December 1, 2023, that women comprise over 49% of the varsity athletes at the University of Oregon, but only 25% of its total athletic expenditures and only 15% of its recruiting expenditures.  They further claim that the men’s football team enjoys luxurious facilities and state-of-the-art equipment, while the women’s beach volleyball team lacks adequate practice and competition facilities and uses outdated equipment.  The rowing plaintiffs brought suit against the University because of its refusal to support a women’s varsity rowing team, despite its awareness that there is interest, ability, and competition available for the team.

The Claims

The athletes brought their claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.   Title IX requires universities to provide equal athletic opportunities for members of both sexes and mandates that athletic scholarships be awarded proportionally to members of each sex, based on the number of students of each sex participating in intercollegiate sports.  The law lists several non-exhaustive factors to determine whether equal opportunities are available at a given university, including: the provision of equipment and supplies; the scheduling of games and practice time; the provision of locker rooms, practice, and competitive facilities; the provision of medical and training facilities and services; and whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes.

The beach volleyball plaintiffs point out that the University provides the football team with luxurious locker rooms, fitting rooms, and player lounges; ample state-of-the-art, personalized gear and equipment; priority in scheduling training, practices, and games; professional-quality facilities; their own theater with seats upholstered in Ferrari leather; and unlimited access to trainers and medical professionals, among a long list of other perks.  Meanwhile, the beach volleyball team practices at a public park that lacks stands for spectators, has bathrooms without doors on the stalls, and is littered with feces, drug paraphernalia, and trash.  Instead of being provided with top-of-the-line, custom-made gear like their male counterparts, the players wear tattered and ill-fitting gear, handed down by previous players on their own team and other female athletic teams.  The players even share spandex, which is an unsanitary practice because they are worn without underwear.  Additionally, the women are required to schedule their practice times and weight room training around the men’s teams’ schedules, and instead of having access to a panel of medical professionals, the women often provide each other with medical care.

The rowing plaintiffs claim that the University does not provide opportunities for female students in numbers substantially proportional to their respective undergraduate enrollments.  To comply with Title IX’s proportionality requirement, the University would have to add at least 94 female student-athletes to its varsity athletic program.  The rowing plaintiffs argue that the University has been aware “for decades” that there is interest, ability and competition available for a varsity women’s rowing team, but refuses to provide one despite the obvious need to expand the University’s opportunities for female athletes.

What are the Plaintiffs Asking For? 

The plaintiffs asked the Court to first enter an order declaring that the University of Oregon is discriminating against its current female student athletes by failing to provide them with equal benefits, treatment, financial aid, and opportunities as required by Title IX, and then issue an injunction prohibiting the University from continuing to discriminate against the athletes.  Additionally, the plaintiffs asked the court to award them monetary damages to compensate them for their loss, although they did not specify an amount.

Conclusion

Title IX discrimination claims and defenses are very fact specific.  If you have a potential claim or are facing a lawsuit for discrimination, speak with a member of our team for next steps.

Contributions to this blog by Laina Henry.

 

 

Photo by Qing Zhang @ qinger_zhang on Unsplash
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