By MARK PRATT
Attorneys have filed a motion alleging that Brown University violated a 22-year-old agreement to provide gender equity in varsity sports in order to comply with federal Title IX law by recently eliminating several women’s athletic teams.
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.
Several men’s sports were also cut, although some were later restored.
Brown said it would add co-ed and women’s varsity sailing teams to stay in compliance with the agreement.
But the Providence-based school can’t comply with the original settlement based on “teams that do not exist,” according to the ACLU and Public Justice.
“Defendants’ decision to eliminate five women’s intercollegiate athletic varsity teams, and with them meaningful participation opportunities for women, constitutes a gross and willful violation of the Joint Agreement to the immediate and irreparable harm of the class," according to the motion. It asks the court to enforce the agreement and stop Brown from cutting sports unless it can prove that it is not violating the agreement.
The 1998 agreement stems from a lawsuit filed after Brown dropped women’s gymnastics and volleyball as varsity sports in 1991.
Amy Cohen, a Brown gymnast named as a plaintiff in the original lawsuit, was listed as a plaintiff in the new motion.
“More than two decades after first being called out for blatant discrimination against its women athletes, Brown University is once again using fuzzy math, and counting non-existent athletes, in order to avoid equality and accountability in its athletics programs,” Leslie Brueckner, a senior attorney for Public Justice, said in a statement.
Brown, in a statement emailed Tuesday by university spokesman Brian Clark, touted its commitment to women’s sports and said it is confident it will remain in compliance with the original agreement and Title IX, if the coronavirus pandemic does not prompt the cancellation of intercollegiate sports.
“The plaintiff in this case is taking the unusual step of asking Brown to see into the future to provide data on rosters for the coming year, and is doing this at a time when a pandemic has created tremendous and unprecedented uncertainty around college enrollments and the status of athletic competition for the fall season," the school’s statement said.
Anna Susini, a current member of the fencing team, called Brown’s latest sports cuts a betrayal.
The 1998 agreement was a key reason she decided to attend Brown, Susini said in a statement.
“Now, its betrayal of that promise has left countless women athletes, including me, without the opportunities we believed we could count on finding here," she said.
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