U.S. District Court Chief Judge John McConnell, Jr. approved a stipulated order today in Cohen v. Brown University, the landmark Title IX case, requiring Brown University to pay $1,135,000 for the attorneys’ fees and $40,000 for the litigation expenses incurred by the class of women student-athletes who challenged the school’s elimination of women’s teams from its varsity intercollegiate athletics program in June 2020.
In 1992, women student-athletes successfully sued Brown for denying them athletic opportunities provided to Brown’s men, resulting in several precedent-setting decisions that held the school accountable for violating both Title IX by depriving women of equal opportunities to participate and a 1998 consent decree mandating compliance with that law. In 2020, the plaintiff class returned to court, charging that the elimination of four women’s teams violated the 1998 consent decree.
“This order should send a message to schools nationwide,” said Arthur Bryant of Bailey Glasser, LLP, one of the class-counsel for the women. “Title IX is the law. It prohibits sex discrimination. If schools violate Title IX, they will pay. If schools violate Title IX, refuse to admit it, and fight in the courts, they will pay more. And they’ll still have to comply with law.”
Class-counsel Lynette Labinger, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Rhode Island, said, “Countless women locally and nationally have benefitted from the efforts of the women at Brown who have championed this case over three decades through to its current conclusion. We hope that this substantial award, coming after the restoration of two of the women’s teams and the obligation to cut no more, will send a message to all colleges and universities in Rhode Island and elsewhere to carefully examine their athletic programs, renew their commitment to ensure that their women athletes are being treated fairly and equitably and to recognize that decisions to cut programs to save money may prove more costly than the projected savings themselves.”
In the settlement of the 2020 dispute, Brown agreed to reinstate its women’s varsity equestrian and fencing teams. It further agreed to maintain full support for all women’s teams and not to reduce their future support compared to men’s teams. Brown also agreed not to eliminate or reduce the status of any women’s varsity team or add any men’s team (without adding another women’s team) for at least the next four years, during which the University will be required to comply with the consent decree it agreed to in 1998. The consent decree will expire on August 31, 2024, but, after that, the University must still ensure equal opportunities in its athletics programs under Title IX.
As part of the settlement of the 2020 dispute, Brown also agreed to pay the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs for the attorneys representing the women athletes. After a mediation conducted by Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan of the U.S. District Court, the parties agreed on $1.135 million in fees and $40,000 in costs, which was approved today by Chief Judge McConnell.
Class counsel for the female student-athletes include Lynette Labinger of Providence, RI, for the ACLU of Rhode Island; Arthur Bryant, Leslie Brueckner, and Lori Bullock of Bailey Glasser, LLP, in Oakland, CA, and Des Moines, IA ; and Jill Zwagerman of Newkirk Zwagerman, LLP, in Des Moines, IA.
More information about the case can be found here.