Thirty-two female student athletes from the University of Oregon filed a Title IX lawsuit Friday morning in federal court, alleging that Oregon’s athletic department is out of compliance with the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education.
The suit alleges that Oregon does not fulfill any of the three "prongs" — participation proportional to enrollment; expansion of opportunities; accommodating existing interest — used to determine Title IX compliance. Specifically, the lawsuit says, the university's athletic department is guilty of "depriving women of equal treatment and benefits, equal athletic aid, and equal opportunities to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics," according to a press release from Bailey Glasser LLP, the legal firm where well-known Title IX attorney Arthur Bryant works.
The Ducks, whose athletic department is largely funded by Nike co-founder and billionaire Phil Knight, are a major player in college sports. Oregon boasts top women's teams in volleyball, track and field and softball, and the Eugene campus is home to some of the most dazzling facilities in the nation. Oregon announced in July that it would join the Big Ten, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Pac-12.
Bryant is the lead counsel for the women, a group comprised of 26 beach volleyball players and six club rowing team members. The suit is a result of a July investigation by The Oregonian that revealed numerous instances of what Bryant called "blatant" sex-based discrimination. He told USA TODAY Sports he was "stunned" to learn how UO treats its women athletes.
"The University of Oregon is one of the top schools in the country in terms of intercollegiate athletics and money," Bryant said. "They have this reputation for being truly outstanding — and I always believed the reputation. So I was stunned when I read the article, and I was even more stunned when the university’s lawyers were utterly dismissive (of the athletes’ complaints). They didn’t take it seriously, they denied there were any problems — although they didn’t deny the facts — and they refused to take any action to fix it.
“The University of Oregon made it absolutely essential for these women to file suit.”
A 2022 USA TODAY investigation found that 50 years after Congress passed Title IX, dozens of schools across the country, including at some of the biggest and most successful athletic departments, appear to remain in violation of the federal law. Often, there is little to no consequence for schools out of compliance with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and most substantive punishments come as the result of civil litigation.
Florida State announced in October it was adding women's lacrosse as a varsity sport after Bryant threatened legal action in the wake of a USA TODAY investigation showing the school was not in compliance with Title IX. The University of Kentucky is currently awaiting a ruling from a federal judge in a lawsuit filed by female athletes who said the school has not created enough opportunities for them. The lead counsel in the Kentucky lawsuit, Lori Bullock, is also with Bailey Glasser, the firm handling the Oregon case.
The decision to file the suit against Oregon came after Bryant's meeting with the university lawyers didn't get any results.
"Our interactions with Oregon up to now have given us and our clients no reason whatsoever to be optimistic about settling," Bryant told USA TODAY Sports. "But we are entirely optimistic that we’re going to win in court."
In perhaps the most glaring example of non-compliance, the beach volleyball team — which Oregon added as a varsity sport almost a decade ago, in 2014 — does not have its own facility and is forced to practice at a public park. Often times, the restrooms at that park are locked because of drug usage issues.
"Based on the way the beach volleyball team has been treated, female athletes at Oregon do not need much food or water, good or clean clothes or uniforms, scholarships, medical treatment or mental health services, their own facilities, a locker room, proper transportation, or other basic necessities," said beach volleyball captain and lead plaintiff Ashley Schroeder, a senior at Oregon, in the press release. "This week, we could not practice because, sadly and disturbingly, someone died near the public courts we have to use in Amazon Park … But the men’s teams have full scholarships, multi-million-dollar budgets, and professional-level, state-of-the-art facilities.”
It’s not lost on Bryant that the lawsuit is being filed the same day the Ducks are set to play in the Pac-12 championship game against Washington with a College Football Playoff berth on the line.
“If you ever needed proof of what you can accomplish when you treat a team well and invest in them, as opposed to what they’re doing with women’s teams, well, it couldn’t be more clear,” he said.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the University of Oregon said it is "committed to providing a quality, positive experience for all our student-athletes. UO Athletics provides all student-athletes, including our female athletes, with academic support, tutoring, student-athlete development, medical care, mental health support, meals and snacks, and nutrition and sports training. With the modernization of NCAA rules in recent years, we are also proud that we have been able to provide student-athletes with the maximum academic benefit allowed within the restrictions of the Alston decision, in addition to these other benefits.
"For beach volleyball, in addition to all other benefits, UO has already previously committed to increasing scholarships and to building a beach volleyball facility on campus at a site identified via the Campus Planning process. This site planning process began in 2019 and the project is now in the development phase.
"The University believes it complies with Title IX. UO has not yet been served a copy of the complaint, and therefore we are unable to comment on any further specifics."
Contributing: Nancy Armour
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: University of Oregon athletes file Title IX lawsuit citing violations