University of Central Oklahoma Hit with Title IX Class Action Over Alleged Discrimination Against Female Student Athletes
Robertson et al. v. University of Central Oklahoma et al.
Filed: September 20, 2022 ◆§ 5:22-cv-00836
The University of Central Oklahoma faces a proposed class action lawsuit over alleged Title IX violations.
University of Central Oklahoma Board of Regents for the Regional University System of Oklahoma
Members of the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) women’s indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country teams have filed a proposed class action against the school and its board of regents, alleging they and all female varsity student athletes have been discriminated against on the basis of sex and retaliated against for voicing their concerns.
The 38-page lawsuit alleges UCO has violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by depriving female varsity student athletes of treatment and benefits equal to those provided to male varsity student athletes, who the case claims are “treated far better.”
More specifically, the complaint accuses the Division II school of failing to “effectively accommodate the interest and abilities” of female student athletes, including by providing inferior equipment and supplies; inferior means of travel; inferior scheduling of games and practice times; inferior locker rooms, practice facilities, and medical and training services; less publicity and public recognition; and less formal recognition for the athletes’ achievements in comparison to their male counterparts.
The lawsuit alleges Martha Brennan, director and head coach of the UCO women’s varsity cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams, was fired last June in retaliation for having voiced concerns regarding “the numerous ways in which UCO was depriving [female student athletes] and their teammates of equal treatment and opportunities.”
Under Title IX, no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The law also prohibits retaliation against those who complain about sex discrimination.
“Violations of Title IX’s requirements constitute intentional sex discrimination,” the case states.
According to the complaint, UCO’s men’s athletic teams in the 2020-2021 school year were comprised of 213 male student athletes, with the varsity football team’s 108 athletes and the wrestling team’s 39 athletes accounting for the majority of participation in the men’s athletic programs. For the same academic year, UCO’s women’s teams were made up of 186 female student athletes, with the indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country teams accounting for roughly 35 percent of participation in the women’s athletic programs at the school, the case relays.
The suit, citing data submitted to the United States Department of Education, says that women accounted for 62.83 percent of the undergraduate enrollment at UCO for the 2020-2021 school year despite accounting for only 46.62 percent of the school’s varsity athletic program.
The lawsuit states that the men’s football and wrestling teams each receive new apparel every year, while female athletes on the track and field teams do not, and sometimes do not have enough uniforms for everyone on the team.
“As a result, these female student-athletes must wear mismatched top and bottom uniforms, or apparel from prior years,” the filing says. “No male student-athletes on men’s teams are required to wear mismatched uniforms.”
As far as equipment, the suit claims the women’s track and field teams are not provided with pole vault poles or mats, and female throwers are not provided with a collegiate throwing cage with proper netting, meaning they cannot safely practice certain throws.
Scheduling of meets and practice times is similarly unequal, the lawsuit continues. The case says that last fall, for example, the UCO women’s cross country team was scheduled to host only one home competition but had to cancel it because the university failed to secure a site.
“In contrast, the university always has sites for its men’s teams’ competitions and has not had to cancel a men’s team’s home competition due to lack of competitive facilities,” the suit reads.
Female student athletes are also forced to use the UCO weight room at “undesirable times” as the men’s football and wrestling teams are granted “priority access,” according to the complaint. Student athletes on the men’s teams often “push out” female student athletes from their scheduled time in the weight room, even if it’s scheduled in advance, the case claims.
For away competitions, the women’s track and field and cross country teams’ coaches must drive the vans used to transport the teams, while the men’s varsity teams travel by charter buses, the lawsuit alleges. Moreover, UCO often pays for the men’s teams to leave campus the day before a game and stay in a hotel overnight, while women’s teams are not provided that benefit, leaving them tired and limited in the amount of warm-up time they get, the suit states.
Further still, the lawsuit says more than one-third of female UCO student athletes are not provided with any locker rooms or practice facilities at all, while each men’s varsity team gets a private locker room that was “built or remodeled within the last three or four years.”
“In contrast, the men’s football and wrestling teams have top-of-the-line locker room facilities that include individual locker cubbies with backlit personalized name plates for every male student-athlete on the teams, a kitchen, vending-type machines that provide free snacks and sports drinks to the student-athletes, and high-quality, abundant seating options.”
The lawsuit goes on to contend that UCO knew that its retaliatory firing of Brennan, and encouragement that women’s track and field and cross country athletes transfer schools, would “have a chilling effect” on the rest of the team members, “all of whom would be deterred from pursuing their rights under Title IX.”
“That is precisely the effect it had,” the suit says, claiming affected student athletes were “wary of pursuing and helping support Title IX claims against UCO.”
In August, a male coach was hired by UCO to replace Brennan as head coach of the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country teams, the lawsuit says. Per the suit, the start of the teams’ season for the 2022-2023 academic year was delayed when UCO failed to timely file the necessary paperwork with the NCAA.
The case looks to cover all current and future female varsity student athletes at UCO.
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