Quinnipiac University has agreed to maintain its women’s volleyball team and expand athletic opportunities for its female students as part of a proposed settlement to end a lengthy court battle regarding the school’s lack of Title IX compliance.
The question of Quinnipiac’s Title IX compliance initially arose in 2009, when five members of the school’s women’s volleyball team and their coach sued the university and successfully enjoined a plan to eliminate the team. At the time, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill found a lack of Title IX compliance and ruled the university was “not providing genuine athletic participation opportunities in substantial proportionality to the gender composition of its full-time undergraduate enrollment.”
Following a trial, Judge Underhill confirmed his preliminary findings with regard to the injunction in a 95-page opinion. In the opinion, the judge announced the school violated Title IX by shortchanging female students of athletic opportunities. The school argued that members of the cheer team should be counted as athletes for purposes of Title IX compliance. Judge Underhill disagreed. He concluded, “Competitive cheer may, sometime 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.” In August 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the University’s appellate argument that the 30-member competitive cheerleading squad should be included in the total number of student athletes.
Last month, Judge Underhill once again has rejected Quinnipiac’s arguments for lifting the injunction that had prevented the elimination of the women’s volleyball team. The judge ruled that Quinnipiac’s changes to its athletics program in response to his previous order were insufficient to bring the school into full compliance with the requirements of Title IX. He acknowledged the school had made substantial progress toward Title IX compliance, but found the mere addition of women’s varsity golf and rugby teams was inadequate to satisfy the school’s requirement for statistical compliance with Title IX. Judge Underhill concluded the university could renew its efforts to lift the injunction in the future.
The proposed settlement, which is subject to court approval, apparently will end Quinnipiac’s persistent effort to challenge Judge Underhill and lift the injunction. As part of the settlement, the school has agreed to maintain the women’s volleyball team and provide more scholarships and opportunities for Quinnipiac’s female athletes. In addition, the school has agreed to invest at least $5 million to upgrade facilities used by its varsity women’s teams, including locker rooms.