Robb v. Lock Haven
Adopted October 2017
“We commend the Lock Haven women for their courage in taking action to bring their university into compliance with Title IX after it failed to provide its female students with equitable athletic opportunities for decades and moved to take more opportunities away.” — Attorneys for Robb v. Lock Haven Terry L. Fromson and Amal Bass of Women’s Law Project and Kathleen Yurchak of Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak
Students Fighting for Equitable Opportunities
Emily Robb and seven other courageous student athletes filed a class action lawsuit on June 6, 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, against Lock Haven University (LHU) of Pennsylvania alleging a number of Title IX claims. The complaint describes LHU’s longstanding failure to provide equal opportunities to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics as mandated by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In light of this discrimination, the lawsuit claims that LHU violated Title IX when it proposed elimination of its women’s swim team and, after reversing that decision, engaged in discriminatory actions that would lead to the team’s demise. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege LHU’s threatened demotion of the women’s Division I field hockey team — the only women’s Division I team — while not demoting the men’s wrestling team — the only men’s Division I team — violates Title IX’s equal level of competition test. Plaintiffs also assert discrimination in treatment.
To meet Title IX’s athletic participation test, an educational program must meet one of the following requirements:
- Provide substantially proportionate participation opportunities for women and men athletes, or
- prove a history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex, or
- fully and effectively accommodate the interest and abilities of the underrepresented sex, typically female.
The eight student athletes AAUW supports in this case through the legal case support program allege that LHU has failed all three prongs of the participation test. The complaint states that LHU has failed to add a women’s athletic team since 1994 and has not elevated women’s club teams to the varsity level despite requests, interest, and ability. Plaintiffs further charge LHU with seeking to avoid adding new teams for its women students by manipulating roster management — inflating the rosters of women’s teams with students who do not meet Title IX’s definition of athletic participants (for example by including names of women who signed up but do not participate on the team) and capping the men’s teams.
In January 2019, the students filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims. They moved for summary judgment on their Title IX claims asserting violations of:
- equal athletic opportunities, by depriving female students of significant numbers of athletic opportunities,
- equal levels of opportunity, by threatening demotion of Division I field hockey to Division II while not threatening Division I wrestling, and
- equal treatment with respect to many factors including equipment, facilities, marketing and access to coaching.
LHU also filed a motion for summary judgment at the same time. We will keep you posted about the outcome.
A Win for Title IX
Equity in education is no game, but we at AAUW enthusiastically support any win for Title IX protections. Jacquelyn Bingham, Kayla Brathwaite, Mackenzie Farley, Kelly Gerrity, Taryn Piano, Taylor Plouse, Tamia Roach, Emily Robb, and the class of women athletes they seek to represent have trained hard and deserve an equal playing field. Universities that use subversive tactics to appear Title IX compliant damage not only their own credibility but the potential of their athletes.
AAUW provides support for a select number of cases that have the potential to provide significant protection for all women.
Learn what you can do to support students, faculty, and athletes.
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