Brown, attorneys reach settlement in women’s sports fight
Brown University and attorneys for student-athletes who challenged the Ivy League school’s decision to reduce several women’s varsity sports teams to club status announced a proposed settlement Thursday.
In addition to restoring the women’s equestrian and women’s fencing teams to varsity status, the sides also said that a 1998 legal agreement ensuring gender equity in varsity sports at Brown would end on Aug. 31, 2024. The school would still be subject to the federal Title IX law requiring equal opportunities for women in sports.
Until that date, the Providence, Rhode Island, school will continue to comply with the 1998 agreement’s maximum 2.25% difference between the percentage of female varsity athletes and full-time female undergraduates, and will not reduce the status of — or eliminate — any women’s varsity teams and will not add any new men’s varsity teams, the sides said in a joint statement.
The settlement is subject to the approval of a federal judge, which could come as early as next week.
Lynette Labinger, lead attorney for the student-athletes, called the proposed settlement bittersweet because they were not able to save all five women’s sports.
“But through our efforts and the overwhelming contributions and energy of the student-athletes, we have ensured that Brown will provide meaningful participation opportunities for more women athletes and not simply push numbers around on a page,” she said in a statement.
Brown announced in May it would reduce women’s varsity fencing, golf, squash, skiing and equestrian teams to club status in an effort to streamline its athletic department and make remaining teams more competitive.
Six men’s varsity sports were also cut, although track and cross country were later restored. Brown said it would add co-ed and women’s varsity sailing teams to maintain gender balance.
Public Justice and the ACLU of Rhode Island on June 29 filed a motion asking the federal court to enforce the 1998 agreement by restoring the women’s sports and finding the university in contempt. The 1998 agreement had stemmed from a legal challenge to Brown’s decision to cut women’s gymnastics and volleyball in the eary 1990s. It was named the Cohen Agreement after one of the plaintiffs, and previously had no expiration date.
That agreement presented a “significant obstacle” to Brown because it established unique reporting requirements not faced by any other U.S. college or university, the school said in a statement Thursday.
The school had repeatedly denied violating the terms of the agreement.
“The Cohen agreement served an important purpose when it was signed 22 years ago, but Brown’s commitment to women athletes transcends the agreement,” Brown President Christina Paxson said in a statement. “We can provide excellent athletics opportunities for women and men, be a leader in upholding Title IX and have a competitive varsity program. And we will.”
The legal battle became increasingly tense last month when attorneys for the student-athletes released a series of internal Brown documents, including emails from Paxson and other top administrators, that Public Justice and the ACLU said proved that Brown wanted to dismantle the 1998 agreement.
Brown fired back that Public Justice and the ACLU were just hyping “spurious conspiracy claims.”