University hit with Title IX lawsuit for cutting sports budget

Two female students have filed a Title IX lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University after the school cut their sports teams, even though the cuts disproportionately impacted male athletes. 

According to EMU, four sports teams were axed in March 2018: men’s wrestling, men’s swimming, women’s softball, and women’s tennis. Among the students impacted, 25 were women and 58 were men. 

But while these cuts impacted a greater number of male students, the lawsuit claims that the cuts are in line with the school’s history of providing “fewer and poorer opportunities for women in sports,” and that the cuts amount to discrimination “on the basis of sex.” 

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The suit, filed on behalf of Ariana Chretien, 19, and Marie Mayerova, 21, claims that the decisions to cut two of the 12 women’s sports teams were an act of “sex discrimination,” and suggests EMU is discriminating against women en-masse. 

“It is unknown how many present, prospective, or future female student athletes would enroll at Defendant EMU or would participate in athletics at the university if it stopped discriminating against women,” the lawsuit states.  

EMU, however, disputes these claims. In a July 10 press release, EMU alleged that the suit downplays women’s involvement in sports at EMU, explaining that, if anything, the decision to axe the teams hit male students the hardest.

“It is important to note that following the sports reductions, Eastern now maintains 10 female teams and 7 male teams,” EMU noted. “We believe our budgetary actions in this matter are wholly appropriate and justified.”  

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In an interview with Campus Reform, attorney Lori Bullock acknowledged that the cuts impacted more male students numerically, but cited the composition of the EMU athletics department overall as evidence of discrimination. 

“What EMU is failing to acknowledge, [is that] at EMU the student population is 60 percent female, and 40 percent male, roughly,” Bullock said. “However, the athletics department is almost opposite than that. They are 60 percent male, and 40 percent female.”

When Bullock was asked whether this disparity may be due to women’s relative lack of interest in collegiate sports—as opposed to bias by EMU officials—Bullock rebuffed the suggestion. 

“What Title IX requires is that, as so long as there’s interest in the sport, the school must offer the sport to men and women in the same proportion as enrollment,” explained Bullock, who went on to outline that there is a large gender “participation gap” at EMU. 

”For the 2016-2017 academic year, in order to offer the same number of men’s spots [and still be in compliance with Title IX], EMU would need to offer 273 additional female athlete opportunities,” she asserted. “That is the ‘participation gap’ that currently exists.” 

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Plaintiff Ariana Chretien, meanwhile, said the lawsuit is an effort to fight for women’s rights.

“The ideal outcome would be just for our sports to get reinstated. Men’s and women’s would be ideal, you know, I don’t want to see any athletes’ sports being cut. But Title IX has given us an opportunity to fight for women’s rights,” Chretien told Michigan Radio

EMU has filed a motion to stay the lawsuit, pending the outcome of a parallel OCR investigation. However, Bullock is fighting to have that overturned, arguing that by the time the OCR completes its investigation, Chretien and Mayerova will have already graduated. 

According to Inside Higher Education, the average OCR probe into a Title IX complaint takes 1,469 days. Federal investigators are currently working their way through a backlog of 1,638 Title IX complaints, some of which date back to 2010. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen