The University of Kentucky (UK) and its board of trustees are among the defendants in a proposed class action lawsuit filed by two student athletes over alleged “long-standing and ongoing violations” of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
According to the 29-page federal court complaint, the University of Kentucky and its trustees, president and athletic director must answer for a sizable “participation gap” between male and female student athletes. The lawsuit alleges the university has systemically discriminated against women on the basis of gender by offering “substantially fewer and poorer opportunities” when it comes to sports in comparison to what’s provided for male students.
At the heart of the complaint is the allegation that UK and its co-defendants have consciously chosen to provide male athletes with a greater number of opportunities than those available to female student athletes:
“In choosing which sports it will offer to the students of each sex, UK chooses how many varsity athletic participation opportunities it provides to male students and how many athletic participation opportunities it provides to female students. This fact makes athletics unlike other educational programs in which male and female students participate together or compete against each other for the same opportunities or class slots on an equal basis.
On information and belief, Defendants choose and have chosen which sports they provide to each sex in a manner that provides and has provided its male students with proportionally more opportunities to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics than it has provided its female students, thus denying female students an equitable opportunity to participate in this educational program.”
The defendants are prohibited under Title IX from engaging in discrimination and denying participation in or benefits from any educational program on the basis of gender, the lawsuit explains. To comply with Title IX, intercollegiate athletics programs must be structured so that the participation rate of women is either “substantially proportionate” to their undergraduate enrollment rate or such that the program demonstrates “a history and continuing practice” of expansion and demonstrative responsiveness to developing the interests and abilities of women. Compliance with Title IX can also be met so long as a university presents an athletic program that “fully and effectively” accommodates women’s interests and abilities, the case adds.
Cited in the lawsuit are statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act showing that women comprised roughly 55 percent of UK’s student population for the 2017-2018 academic year. According to the case, however, women made up only 41 percent of the total participants on intercollegiate varsity teams offered at the institution. As the plaintiffs tell it, the University of Kentucky’s intercollegiate athletic program fails to meet any Title IX standards. From the complaint:
“Defendants continue to violate the civil rights of Plaintiffs and members of the proposed class they seek to represent in this action by failing to provide equitable athletic participation and scholarship opportunities for women, despite the athletic interests and abilities of UK female students and prospective students. In addition, Defendants have used and continue to employ a discriminatory process for establishing and maintaining varsity teams for men and women at UK, with the result that women are deprived of an equitable opportunity to participate in varsity level sports.”
The case says that although several female student athletes have attempted to have conversations with the university and certain officers about adding more female varsity sports to the school’s offerings, the defendants have maintained that none will be added. The result, the plaintiffs argue, is the availability of fewer scholarship opportunities for female athletes, which the complaint says flies in the face of UK’s pride in itself as a national leader in sports with its Elite 1-3-5 program, a commitment to win a championship in all 22 sports, sustain a 3.0 GPA every semester, and finish in the top five of Directors’ Cup standings by 2022.
“However, UK is standing on the backs of its female student population in order to promote and benefit men’s sports at the expense and detriment to women’s sports,” the case reads.
The plaintiffs, a lacrosse player who chose the sport due to the lack of a field hockey team at UK and a high-level triathlete who cannot compete in her sport due to the school’s lack of a varsity triathlon team, say the university must add approximately 183 women to its athletic programs to reach Title IX compliance. According to the plaintiffs, several women’s sports club teams have expressed interest in gaining varsity status, to which UK has “failed to effectively respond.”