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Eastern Michigan University Has Settled A Lawsuit Over Its Decision To Cut Two Women's Sports

Jan 23, 2020

Eastern Michigan University and plaintiffs representing two former student athletes have agreed to a settlement of the Title IX case involving the elimination of two women’s sports teams that was initiated in March 2018. 

WEMU's Lisa Barry has the details.


Eastern Michigan University, Plaintiffs, agree to settlement in Title IX case related to athletics

YPSILANTI --  Eastern Michigan University and Plaintiffs representing two former student athletes have agreed to a settlement of the Title IX case involving the elimination of two women’s sports teams that was initiated in March 2018.  (Two men’s sports teams also were eliminated in March 2018.)  An order granting a joint motion to preliminarily approve a Consent Decree, class certification, approval of proposed class notice, and to set a fairness hearing, was entered Jan. 16, 2020, by Judge George Caram Steeh of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

"Eastern Michigan University has approached our discussions with the plaintiffs positively and constructively," said EMU Executive Director of Media Relations Geoff Larcom.  "Our team has worked together with the Plaintiffs' legal counsel for 15 months to arrive at a fair result.

“The University fully embraces Title IX and the support of our female student athletes at all levels, and we have worked diligently with Plaintiffs to draft and present a Consent Decree that reflects these values.  This settlement reflects the University’s continued laser focus on compliance with Title IX."

As the University has stated repeatedly throughout the case, its overarching priority in this situation is to meet its Title IX obligations completely and in a way that most benefits student-athletes.  Eastern will continue to be guided by this principle as it implements its Title IX plan. 

Over the course of the litigation, the University presented and began to implement a solution that more comprehensively addresses its Title IX responsibilities by adding more female student athletes to its rosters through the addition and expansion of other women's sports - actions that significantly increase the number of participation opportunities.

The University continues to demonstrate its commitment to providing more opportunities for women student athletes.  In fact, the University's initial actions in eliminating sports in March 2018 helped narrow the participation gap between female and male student athletes -- considerably more male student athletes were impacted by the decision than female. 

“We have already taken a number of significant steps forward regarding Title IX compliance, and the settlement preserves those moves and ensures that progress will continue,” said Larcom.  “This Consent Decree, which will be monitored by an impartial court referee over the next three years, allows the University to determine how best to meet the needs of our students going forward.”

Under the terms of the Consent Decree:

  • The University will engage a Title IX Consultant to help guide implementation of a full compliance plan.
  • The University agrees to take all necessary and reasonable steps to achieve substantial proportionality (no more than 1.8 percent difference) between the ratio of male to female athletic participation opportunities in varsity sports programs in comparison to the ratio of male to female full-time undergraduate students attending the University by the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
     
  • The University agrees that during the term of the Consent Decree it will not eliminate any women’s varsity sports, unless (a) either the elimination is the result of circumstances beyond its control, as demonstrated and approved by the court or (b) the elimination will not cause participation of women to fall below the level of substantial proportionality. The Consent Decree neither requires nor prohibits the elimination of any men’s varsity team.

 

  • The University agrees to take steps to manage the roster sizes of men’s and women’s sports as are necessary to achieve substantial proportionality.
  • The University agrees to continue to sponsor women’s varsity tennis to compete in the Spring 2020 season (previously announced Nov. 2018).
     
  • The University will start a varsity women's lacrosse team, hiring its first coach this year, to compete by Spring 2022 (previously announced Nov. 2019).
  • The University will commit at least $2 million more in total investment to women's sports on campus over the course of the next three years, in addition to funding the lacrosse program.  This amount includes capital projects as well as operations.
     
  • The University will award a total amount of $125,000 to the two named plaintiffs, to be split between them. 
  • The Court will appoint a neutral third-party individual to serve as referee to monitor compliance over the term of the Consent Decree.   
  • The University will pay plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees. 

Under the terms of the settlement, the University will notify class members of the Consent Decree on or before Jan. 22.  The court set a date of March 12 for a Fairness Hearing in which any objections by class members can be heard. 

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu