Portz v. St. Cloud State University
The Story behind Portz
Portz v. St. Cloud State University et al. is a case involving 10 female student athletes who filed a lawsuit against St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and Minnesota State College and University Systems. Five of the women are members of SCSU’s women’s tennis team and five are members of the women’s Nordic ski team. In March 2016 the SCSU athletic department announced plans to cut six teams from its athletic program, including both the women’s tennis and Nordic ski teams.
The school also announced a “roster management plan,” which is used by school administrators to determine the size of a sports team’s roster. Roster management can disguise roster manipulation and create the appearance of Title IX compliance. For example, by double-counting women athletes who are on one team but may participate in different events — counting one woman on the track team who runs both indoor and cross-country track as two women — the number of women athletes at a school overall can increase, therefore implying that there are more distinct athletic opportunities for women than there really are. The Office for Civil Rights measures athletic opportunity by considering, among many factors, a school’s provision of certain materials and services, such as facilities for competition, practice, housing, and dining; coaching and academic tutoring for student athletes; travel and per diem expenses; equipment and supplies; and publicity.
Universities must provide equal opportunities for students to participate in sports. Title IX compliance can be achieved in three ways: by ensuring proportionate opportunities for all athletes, by demonstrating a history of and continuing commitment to program expansion, or by fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex. The plaintiffs in Portz allege that SCSU is in violation of the first and third of these methods.
Title IX Compliance: Do the Math
During the 2014–15 academic year SCSU’s undergraduate population was almost exactly 50 percent female and 50 percent male. However, the plaintiffs in Portz allege that the athletic participation gap, a measurement that compares athletic opportunities by gender to enrollment numbers by gender, has shown that there are more athletic opportunities for men each year despite nearly equal enrollment numbers for men and women. According to calculations submitted by Portz attorney Donald Chance Mark, Jr., if women had been offered the same number of athletic opportunities as men, they would have had 1,759 more opportunities to play sports over the 12-year period of time he analyzed.
These 10 courageous student athletes — and female students everywhere — deserve equal opportunities to participate in all educational programs and activities. Schools cannot be allowed to unfairly cut opportunities for women in sports. AAUW hopes that Portz will reaffirm that equal access in all areas of education must be protected and respected both on and off the field.
AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases during its 35-year history. The case support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in education.
Women’s sports have come a long way since Title IX, but a lawsuit from former University of Tennessee staff shows that we are still grappling with gender gaps in university athletics.
Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Under Title IX, schools are required to provide equal athletic opportunities to all students.