Attorneys have accused Brown University of violating a two-decades-old agreement to provide gender equity in varsity sports in compliance with federal Title IX law by announcing the elimination of several women’s varsity sports teams, according to a recent court filing.
Attorneys for Public Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island allege in the motion filed in federal court Monday that the Ivy League school violated terms of the 1998 agreement when it announced last month it would cut women’s fencing, golf, squash, skiing and equestrian teams in an effort to streamline its athletic department.
The cuts would result in “immediate and irreparable harm,” the motion says.
“We are truly disappointed in the callous manner in which Brown University has treated its varsity athletes, both men and women, in abruptly, and without warning, informing them that their opportunity to continue their athletic career at the highest collegiate level is over,” said Lynette Labinger, lead class counsel in the original lawsuit, according to a press release on the filing.
Labinger is also ACLU of Rhode Island’s co-counsel and filed the motion with attorneys from Public Justice.
“For the women athletes, Brown has once again displayed a lack of commitment – as opposed to lip service – to gender equity and to its obligations,” Labinger’s statement says.
Brown announced in May – much to the surprise of many student-athletes and sports staff – it would be doing away with the five women's varsity sports teams and three men’s sports teams.
The Ivy League university said it will comply with the original agreement, in part, by adding co-ed and women’s varsity sailing teams, according to the ACLU.
But Brown can’t comply with the original settlement based on “teams that do not exist,” the ACLU said in a statement.
Brown, in a statement, defended its commitment to women’s sports.
The motion “is a preemptive legal action asserting a hypothetical violation that has not taken place,” the university said.
The university said it is confident the proportion of women athletes will be in compliance with the original agreement and Title IX for the upcoming athletic seasons.
Earlier this month, a coalition of student-athletes announced they had enlisted the help of big-name attorney Jeffrey Kessler.
Kessler is no stranger to representing athletes and sports agencies in often high-profile legal battles. He worked with then New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association in 2015 in what became known as the “Deflategate” scandal.
He was also one of the attorneys in a high-profile case in 2018 against the NCAA surrounding student-athlete compensation. Kessler and his team won the landmark case.
In a June 18 letter to Brown University President Christina H. Paxson, Kessler urged the school to begin a dialogue with the students and ultimately reconsider the decision.
“No one wants a legal battle if it can be avoided. To that end, we invite the university to engage in immediate settlement discussions with the coalition so that the parties can attempt to resolve this matter amicably and without legal proceedings," Kessler wrote. "However, time is of the essence.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.