June 24. THE University of Northern Iowa has reversed its decision to eliminate its women's swimming/diving and tennis teams to avoid a threatened Title IX lawsuit by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice ("TLPJ").
Unfortunately, the men's teams were not reinstated.
The school had announced last month that it was canceling the women's teams – along with men's swimming/diving and tennis – in response to a
budget crunch. Today, the school announced that it was reinstating the women's teams.
"We are delighted that the university has decided to comply with federal law and reinstate the women's teams," said TLPJ Executive Director Arthur H. Bryant, lead counsel in the settlement negotiations. "This is a
tremendous victory not only for the women athletes, but for all who care about gender equity in sports. It shows why Title IX is so important."
UNI. announced that it was cutting the men's and women's swimming/diving and tennis teams last month, on the last day of final exams. The decision exacerbated the already skewed proportion of athletic
opportunities at the school, caused by the large numbers of members of the football team. Before the cuts, women were given less than 37 percent of the opportunities to participate in athletics, even though
they comprise more than 58 percent of the undergraduate student body.
After the cuts, the athletic opportunities for women would have decreased to 34.2 percent.
UNI's decision prompted team members to contact TLPJ to help get the teams reinstated. After writing to UNI on June 6, TLPJ met with school officials on June 18, reviewed what Title IX required, and said a
federal lawsuit would be filed unless the school reinstated the women's teams within a week. TLPJ also said that it and its team of lawyers would waive their claim for legal fees if the school acted by that deadline.
Today, the school announced that it was reinstating the women's teams. While TLPJ and the women athletes urged U.N.I. to reinstate the men's teams too, UNI refused to do so.
"It is ironic that on the 30th anniversary of Title IX, women athletes still have to remind university administrators that creating a level playing field is not just sporting – it's the law," said TLPJ co-counsel
Rebecca E. Epstein, who participated in the negotiations. "This shows how Title IX works in the real world: it didn't force UNI to eliminate any
men's teams at all – that was the school's unfortunate budgeting decision – but it did stop the school from eliminating women's teams."
The women athletes at UNI contacted TLPJ because of its success in suing Brown University and other schools for discriminating against women athletes and potential athletes in violation of Title IX. TLPJ has
successfully represented more women intercollegiate athletes and potential athletes in Title IX litigation than any law firm in the country. Its lawsuits and/or threatened suits have prompted a dozen schools to
reinstate or increase opportunities for women to participate in athletics.
Kristen Harvey, one of the athletes whom TLPJ represented, said of UNI's reversal, "I am thrilled. I worked so hard, for so long, to get where I am today, and I just want to keep swimming. I want to be a coach someday, and if schools keep eliminating teams like UNI did, there wouldn't even be anyone for me to coach."
Tim R. Teeter of Teeter Law Office in Sumner, Iowa, local counsel in the case stated, "As a former Iowa State University swim team member, and as an official for swim meets at UNI, I have the highest respect for the UNI women athletes. I can understand how important it is for them to have an opportunity to represent their alma mater and to participate in
a wonderful athletic program."
In addition to Bryant, Epstein, and Teeter, TLPJ's legal team included Blake Parker of Parker Law Office in Fort Dodge, Iowa.