In March 2009, Quinnipiac University announced plans to cut its women's volleyball team, men's golf team, and men's outdoor track team. At the same time, the University pledged to create a new varsity sport, competitive cheerleading, for the 2009-10 season. Plaintiffs -- five current Quinnipiac women's varsity volleyball players, and their coach filed this lawsuit against Quinnipiac in response, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, on April 16, 2009. They were represented by the ACLU, and their complaint alleged that Quinnipiac's decision to eliminate its volleyball team violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. § 162, et seq.) and its regulations (34 C.F.R. Part 106).
On May 22, 2009, the District Court (Judge Stefan Underhill) granted a preliminary injunction, preventing Quinnipiac from eliminating women's volleyball as a varsity sport. The court held that Quinnipiac's "roster management" deprived women students of equal participation opportunities in varsity sports. This worked as follows, Judge Underhill explained: Quinnipiac insisted that various women's sports have a "roster floor" -- a team count padded by athletes not actually needed for the team. The result was that a number of purported players actually had as their "principal role" "to provide a gender statistic rather than a meaningful contribution to the team." Conversely, as is common in competitive sports, male teams had a roster cap
, so that some men interested and able to play were not afforded the chance. Accordingly, even though the gender split among varsity student athletes at Quinnipiac seemed to track the student gender demographics more generally, the Court held that this proportionality was actually illusory. Biediger v. Quinnipiac Univ., 616 F. Supp. 2d 277 (D. Conn. 2009)
About a year later, on May 20, 2010, the district court certified the class of: "All present, prospective, and future female students at Quinnipiac University who are harmed by and want to end Quinnipiac University's sex discrimination in: (1) the allocation of athletic participation opportunities; (2) the allocation of athletic financial assistance; and (3) the allocation of benefits provided to varsity athletes." 2010 WL 2017773. A bench trial was then held from June 21 to June 25, 2010, on the Title IX theory that Quinnipiac discriminated in 2009 and 2010 on the basis of sex in its allocation of athletic participation opportunities.
Judge Underhill found for the plaintiffs in a decision published July 21, 2010. Biediger v. Quinnipiac University, 728 F.Supp.2d 62 (2010). He held that the University's competitive cheerleading team did not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members could not be counted as athletic participants under the statute: "Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students." In addition, the Court held, Quinnipiac was impermissibly triple counting women cross-country runners, tallying them, as well, as participants in indoor and outdoor track, even when they did not in fact so participate. Finally, some of the problematic roster management continued. Cutting volleyball, the Court concluded, would only exacerbate the ongoing violation of Title IX. Accordingly, the Court prohibited the immediate elimination of women's volleyball, in 2010-2011, although it made clear that Quinnipiac could subsequently cancel that team, "so long as any decision to eliminate women's volleyball is accompanied by other changes that will bring the University into compliance with Title IX."
The Court required Quinnipiac to submit a compliance plan within 60 days, which Quinnipiac did; plaintiffs opposed that plan as inadequate. Quinnipiac appealed the underlying finding of the district court while it continued to litigate about compliance. (The court stated its view that the compliance plan was likely adequate, and set the issue of Title IX compliance for a future hearing.
On appeal, in an opinion dated August 7, 2012, by Judge Reena Raggi, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's findings and injunction in their entirety. A number of organizations joined the litigation as amici curiae -- the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the National Women's Law Center (joined on the brief by dozens of other women's organizations) supported the plaintiffs; the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund supported Quinnipiac.
Meanwhile, while the appeal was pending, in December 2011, Quinnipiac filed a motion to lift the injunction and terminate the Court's supervision; a hearing was held in June 2012. On March 4, 2013, the District Court denied the motion in a lengthy opinion including findings of fact and conclusions of law. Analyzing the men's and women's sports in question, Judge Underhill concluded that the university had "failed to demonstrate a significant change in the quantity and/or quality of athletic participation opportunities provided to its female students." 928 F.Supp.2d 414, 473 (D. Conn. 2013).
The parties agreed to settle the case on April 26, 2013. The terms of the settlement required the University to develop a Title IX nondiscrimination policy and grievance procedure; to place restrictions on when and why the university could eliminate a women's varsity team and on creating new men's varsity teams without adding women's varsity teams; to upgrade facilities for women's athletics; to increase funding for coaches' salaries for women's athletics; to increase funding for scholarships for women's athletics; and to allow women's teams to participate in more tournaments and competitions. Additionally, the University agreed to pay $15,000 to each named plaintiff, $1.9 million in attorney's fees, and $50,000 to a scholarship fund. Finally, the settlement agreement will be monitored with yearly reports until June 30, 2016. The Court approved of the settlement on June 20, 2013.
On October 2, 2013, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the plaintiffs' Title IX retaliation Claim.
The Referee will continue to monitor the University's progress, and will release yearly reports each July until 2016.Joshua Arocho - 11/24/2014