UCO women’s sports reach proposed settlement in Title IX suit

Sam Royka and Jordan Adams 

Editor-in-Chief and Contributing Writer

The judge will hear the settlement over the summer. (TESS PETERS/THE VISTA)

     The University of Central Oklahoma reached a proposed settlement in a 2022 Title IX class action lawsuit filed by women athletes on the track and cross-country teams. The lawsuit claimed the university violated the student players’ Title IX rights by not providing the same facilities as men’s teams. 

     The text of the settlement has been sent to plaintiffs and participants for review but does not require a response to move forward. The judge will hear the proposed settlement on July 1.

     UCO is now taking action to correct the imbalance. UCO agreed to make immediate changes to women’s track and cross-country teams and will hire a gender equity specialist to conduct thorough reviews. 

     The suit claimed the women’s cross-country and track teams have no locker room, no competitive facility and are forced to practice at a local middle school. 

     Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

UCO is a public institution and receives federal funding, so it must comply with Title IX. 

     “UCO is depriving female student-athletes of equal benefits and treatment in almost every area set forth,” the suit read.

     The list includes: inferior equipment, unequal treatment in scheduling games and practice, inferior travel including unequal access to the same bus service, fewer coaches, worse locker rooms, practice facilities, and competitive facilities, inferior medical and training services, less publicity, less public recognition, and less formal recognition, all as compared to male student-athletes and their teams.

     The original suit is 38 pages long and can be found at the QR code.

Gerry Pinkston, who served as head coach of the softball team and as a kinesiology professor at UCO for more than 22 years, spoke at an event earlier this semester detailing the history of Title IX.

“There were lots of times we asked for things such as being moved to the field house, new uniforms, better conditions, and we got told no, but we kept pushing until we got a yes,” Pinkston said. 

Pinkston was previously the director of volleyball and badminton. She also recalled women coaches volunteering their time and care uncompensated.

Arthur Bryant, lead counsel on the case against UCO, said that generally, the threat of a suit is enough for a university to follow Title IX. 

Two years ago, Bryant wrote a letter to former President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar on behalf of the student athletes. His letter detailed examples of unequal treatment that included the athletes having to practice at a middle school, bathrooms not being provided when the season started, no opportunity to practice weight throwing, and only being able to practice pole vaulting at a public school track 20 minutes away, when it was available. 

“According to the most recent publicly available data UCO provided to the U.S. government and verified as accurate pursuant to the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA), the female student-athletes on the women’s indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, and cross country teams make up 35% of the women’s intercollegiate athletic program at UCO,” the letter reads. “They are not being treated as varsity college athletes—or even junior varsity college athletes. And they are being treated far worse than the male student-athletes at UCO. By blatantly discriminating against over one-third of the women in its intercollegiate athletic program, UCO is flagrantly violating Title IX.” 

UCO’s response denied the allegations. Now, two years later, the proceedings are almost complete.

Bryant’s history with Title IX is long and storied. He worked on the landmark Title IX athletics case Cohen v. Brown University that established a precedent for equal treatment of athletics in the 90s. Two decades later, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown University violated the original judgment “by eliminating several women’s sports teams at a time a disproportionate share of the school’s athletic resources were already being devoted to male athletes,” according to Public Justice, the law firm that handled the case. 

Public Justice and Bryant went back into court and won, with the subsequent judgment requiring Brown to reinstate two women’s teams. 

With this recent history in mind, Bryant gave insight on why Title IX in athletics would come up now on a national scale.

“COVID prompted several schools to eliminate teams,” Bryant wrote. “Unfortunately, as you’ll see from the web page about our recent victories, many of the schools violated Title IX when they did so – which COVID doesn’t allow them to do!“

Share This