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.

The parties reached a settlement agreement in which LHU agreed to increase the number of athletic opportunities available to LHU’s female students and to equalize the conditions under which they practice and compete. During settlement discussions, the Third Circuit granted the plaintiffs’ request to appeal the denial of class action certification. However, with the settlement providing program-wide relief, plaintiffs withdrew their appeal as part of the settlement. Specifically, LHU has agreed to:

  • Support, promote, and recruit for the women’s varsity tennis, wrestling and golf teams with the goal of adding 30-35 additional women student athletes by the end of 2021-22.
  • Continue to support the three new women’s varsity teams it added during the course of the litigation, wrestling, golf, and tennis, and the women’s swim team.
  • Sponsor a women’s Division I varsity team for as long as LHU sponsors a men’s Division I varsity team.
  • Inform LHU’s female students at the beginning of the next two academic years, 2020-21 and 2021-22, of the available participation opportunities in women’s club teams, including the opportunity to establish formerly existing club teams such as the women’s rugby club.
  • Allocate unrestricted athletic scholarships and waivers to the women’s varsity teams by allocating financial assistance to the women’s teams substantially in proportion to the percentages of women varsity athletes.
  • Increase publicity for women’s teams.
  • Improve facilities, athletic equipment, and practice wear for female athletes.

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.

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.

During the course of the litigation, LHU made improvements to the field hockey locker room, continued women’s swimming, maintained field hockey at Division I, and is in the process of adding women’s tennis, wrestling, and golf.

In January 2019, the students filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims asserting violations of Title IX’s;

  • 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.

Although the Court denied both parties’ motions on May 7, 2019, it agreed with plaintiffs that LHU violated Prongs One and Two of Title IX’s three-part-test, because it failed to provide proportional athletic opportunities to its female students and lacked a history and continuing history of expanding opportunities for women. It also rejected LHU’s argument that it was currently in compliance with Title IX based on “anticipated” future participation numbers.

The Court also denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and plaintiffs requested that the Third Circuit permit them to seek review of that decision.

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,  Taryn Piano, Taylor Plouse, Tamia Roach, Emily Robb, and Alice Maroney, later added to the case, as well as the class of women athletes they seek to represent, have trained hard and deserve an equal playing field.