BRIDGEPORT, Conn - A federal district court ruled today that Quinnipiac University (QU) violated Title IX - the statute requiring that universities that receive federal funding must provide equal athletic participation opportunities for men and women.
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The ACLU-CT, assisted by cooperating attorneys Jonathan Orleans and Alex Hernandez of Pullman & Comley, LLC and Kristen Galles of Equity Legal, filed the lawsuit on behalf of several players and the coach of QU's women's volleyball team shortly after the university announced in March 2009 that it planned to eliminate the team.
The district court found that QU violated the law in the academic year 2009-10, and may not eliminate the volleyball team in 2010-11. Judge Stefan R. Underhill declared: "I conclude, as a matter of law, that Quinnipiac discriminated on the basis of sex during the 2009-10 academic year by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for women."
"This victory gives force to the law that has opened doors for women over the last 30 years." said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "Today's ruling requires QU to stop playing games with the important principle of equal opportunity for women."
When they filed the suit in March 2009, the volleyball players contended that QU's decision to eliminate their team violated Title IX because the university did not provide sufficient varsity athletic participation opportunities to women. In May 2009, Judge Underhill granted a preliminary injunction preventing QU from eliminating the volleyball team pending further order of the court, thus allowing the team to compete in the 2009-10 season. In May 2010, Judge Underhill granted the plaintiffs' application to allow them to represent a class of all present, prospective, and future female QU students who oppose the University's violations of Title IX.
"The athletes all look forward to getting back on the volleyball court for preseason in three weeks," said Volleyball Coach Robin Sparks, a plaintiff in the case. "As their coach, I feel fortunate to be able to work with such strong young women who are not afraid to stand up for their principles. It will be a joy to be back in the gym with them this fall."
"This is a victory not only for the student athletes and their coach, but for women's collegiate sports generally. We look forward to discussing with Quinnipiac its plan for compliance with the court's ruling," said Attorney Orleans.
Among the issues in the case was that QU proposed to comply with Title IX by creating a new women's sport, competitive cheer, to replace the women's volleyball team. Judge Underhill noted that while in the future, competitive cheer may qualify as a sport under Title IX, today the University's competitive cheerleading team "does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute." In addition, Judge Underhill held that "Quinnipiac's practice of requiring women cross-country runners to participate on the indoor and outdoor track teams, and its treatment of the indoor and outdoor track teams as, in essence, an adjunct of the cross-country team, are sufficient to show that some cross-country runners who participate on the indoor and outdoor track teams should not be counted under Title IX."
Judge Underhill has given the university 60 days to submit a compliance plan detailing how it will bring its athletic program back into compliance with Title IX, and that plan must provide for the continuation of the women's volleyball team during the 2010-11 season.
"Our clients, the women of the Quinnipiac volleyball team and their coach, have done a great service for all women athletes," said Attorney Hernandez of Pullman & Comley. "Their bravery and tenacity in pursuing this case has led to a milestone decision ensuring that academic institutions which receive federal financial assistance must uphold the spirit of Title IX."
Quinnipiac Volleyball decision July 21 2010 338k
Quinnipiac Pre-Trial Memos