Courtesy: Robert Dickson
Thirty-two current and former female student-athletes are suing the University of Oregon for Title IX violations in a complaint that was filed today in the U.S. District Court of Oregon. The named plaintiffs bringing the class-action sex discrimination lawsuit include 26 members of Oregon’s women’s beach volleyball team and six club rowers.
The 115-page complaint alleges that the lawsuit is brought against the University of Oregon “for depriving its female student-athletes of equal treatment, equal athletic financial aid, and equal opportunities to participate in varsity athletics in violation of Title IX.”
In the complaint, the plaintiffs cite various discrepancies in treatment between Oregon’s male and female student-athletes. The “most egregious example” alleged by the plaintiffs is the treatment and benefits given to Oregon’s football student-athletes compared to the treatment that all of the female student-athletes receive. Some alleged examples include the football locker rooms, personalized gear and equipment, chartered flights, quantities of food and per diem, practice and competitive facilities, and nearly-unlimited publicity, which helps the football student-athletes advance their name, image, and likeness (NIL) opportunities. The lawsuit also references a July 2023 report by The Oregonian which exposed the University of Oregon’s discrimination against its female student-athletes.
This class-action complaint is the first major NIL-related Title IX lawsuit since the NCAA has adopted its interim NIL policy. The plaintiffs allege, among other things, that because of the publicity and NIL support that the football student-athletes receive, they have three members listed on On3’s NIL 100 list as the highest NIL recipients in the country. By comparison, the women’s beach volleyball athletes receive “so little publicity and NIL support” that none of them, or any of Oregon’s female student-athletes, can receive anywhere near the NIL compensation as Oregon’s quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Also implicated in the complaint is Oregon’s NIL collective, Division Street. It is worth noting that the NIL-related allegations are just a portion of the overall complaint and the Title IX lawsuit likely could have and would have been filed regardless.
The plaintiffs allege that the University of Oregon fails to meet any of the three “prongs” set out to comply with Title IX. These prongs are:
- Participation opportunities for male and female students are provided in number substantially proportional their respective enrollments; or
- Where the members of one sex have been and are underrepresented among intercollegiate athletes, the school can show a history and continuing practice of program expansion which is demonstrably responsive to the developing interest and abilities of the members of that sex; or
- Where the members are underrepresented and the school cannot show a continuing practice of program expansion, whether it can be demonstrated that the interests and abilities of the members of that sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program.
The lawsuit seeks certification as a class action, an order that Oregon is discriminating against its current female varsity student-athletes, a permanent injunction barring Oregon from discriminating against its female student-athletes on the basis of their sex as well as damages and attorney fees.
The lawyers representing the plaintiffs are Jennifer Middleton and Arthur Bryant. Notably, Bryant helped the Eastern Carolina women’s swimming and diving athletes successfully fight for reinstatement after the university cut the program in May 2020.