Published Online: April 30, 1997


High Court Declines To Review Title IX Athletics Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to review lower-court rulings that Brown University discriminated against women in its varsity athletics offerings.

Without comment, the court left in place a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit that Brown was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex by educational institutions receiving federal funds. Participate in our new interactive TOWN MEETING, an electronic roundtable on improving schools

Although the high court's action in Brown University v. Cohen (Case No. 96-1321) was not a ruling on the merits of the university's appeal, advocates of gender equity in high school and college sports nonetheless argued that the justices sent a message that they saw no need to review the lower courts' broad interpretation of Title IX.

"Brown was making an attempt to overturn what has been settled principles in Title IX," said Marcia D. Greenberger, a lawyer with the National Women's Law Center in Washington. "But the lower courts have been uniform in applying Department of Education rules" on equity in athletics.

A group of women sued Brown in 1992 after the university ended funding for its women's intercollegiate gymnastics and volleyball teams. At Brown, women make up 51 percent of the student enrollment but only 38 percent of campus athletes.

The university argued that it was meeting the relative interests of its students because women expressed less interest in athletics than men did.

School Sports Eyed

The 1st Circuit court ruled 2-1 last year that Brown had to remedy the differential by either adding women's sports or cutting back or eliminating some men's sports. The court left it up to the university to devise a plan.

The court said last year that it viewed Brown's argument that women are less interested than men in participating in sports "with great suspicion."

In its appeal to the high court, Brown argued that the lower courts were compelling a form of affirmative action in intercollegiate athletics that conflicted with recent Supreme Court rulings. Brown was joined by some 60 other colleges and universities that called for the justices to overturn the 1st Circuit ruling.

Ms. Greenberger, who helped represent such groups as the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport in a friend-of-the-court brief, said that while Title IX athletics cases at the college level have gotten most of the attention in recent years, advocates for women's sports are also turning to high schools.

"We have noticed a trend of more parents and young women being concerned about limited opportunities at the high school level," she said. "There are young women who excelled in softball or soccer as younger children, and then they get to high school and find they don't have the same practice time or locker facilities as the boys."

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