Two swimmers are among eight student-athletes filing a lawsuit against Lock Haven University for alleged “intentional discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX.”
The suit is the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Lock Haven and many of its athletic programs, coaches and student-athletes. Swimmers say the school told its swim team in January about a proposal to cut the sport from the Lock Haven athletic department. Swimmers and the program’s former coach say that the school refused to approve a request for the team’s mid-season training trip, despite the trip being completely funded and not requesting any money from the athletic department. The athletic department itself wouldn’t go into detail when we spoke to them back in March, but disputed the claim that the trip didn’t request any money.
The school ultimately chose not to cut the swimming program, but did remove head coach Joel Blesh. Blesh says the school exercised a buy-out on his contract, but the school said it merely chose not to extend Blesh’s contract, which was originally slated to run through the end of June, 2017. We spoke to both sides and ran a story about the discrepancy here.
Now, eight female student-athletes are suing the school for violations of Title IX, alleging that the school is engaging in “intentional discrimination on the basis of sex” through its recent decisions involving women’s sports. Six of the eight plaintiffs are members of the women’s field hockey team, which was reviewed by the athletic department with the possibility of being moved from Division I to Division II earlier this year. The other two are swimmers Kelly Gerrity and Jacquelyn Bingham.
Lock Haven’s original proposal called for swimming and track & field to be cut and field hockey to be brought up for review to potentially drop from Division I to Division II. Ultimately, the school did cut the track & field team, but kept swimming (a Division II sport) and maintained field hockey at the Division I level.
But the lawsuit suggests the school is already preparing to cut swimming and demote field hockey “in the very near future.” One piece of evidence it cites is the removal of Blesh from his coaching position. The lawsuit criticizes the school for delaying the process of hiring a new coach, and also alleges that the new coach will only be hired on a part-time basis. Lock Haven spokesperson Rodney Jenkins told PennLive this week that the new coach “would be paid at a full-time rate” and that the team would have as many meets on its schedule next year as it did this past year.
We reached out to Lock Haven for comment. The school said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation, and also wouldn’t comment on the full-time/part-time coaching dispute, saying only that “We are conducting a search now and hope to have a new coach in place in the near future,” and that the school “can’t comment any further on personnel matters at this time.”
The lawsuit seeks to preemptively stop the program cuts and demotions is predicts will be coming. The suit asks for a temporary restraining order and an injunction keeping the school from cutting and/or downgrading the programs.
A U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania’s Middle District will hold a telephone conference on Friday, June 9th to discuss that request.