Judge: LHU has not effectively accommodated female athletic interests
WILLIAMSPORT – Lock Haven University has not effectively accommodated female students’ athletic interests and abilities, a federal judge says.
That was the assessment Tuesday by U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann in a suit filed two years ago by eight female athletes who charge the university violates the equal participation clause of Title IX.
The judge’s conclusion was contained in an opinion in which he denied, due to too many disputed facts, motions for summary judgment filed by both sides.
He also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to make the suit a class action for all female athletes but allowed them to seek that status for present and future members of the field hockey and women’s swim team and the rugby club team.
In his opinion, Brann found: “The undisputed evidence shows that as a matter of law, Lock Haven does not have a history of program expansion which is demonstrably responsive to the developing interests and abilities of its female students.”
No women’s teams have been added in the past 20 years although club teams repeatedly requested elevation to varsity status, he wrote.
Lock Haven claims there is a lack of available competition at the NCAA Division II level if it were to elevate the women’s rugby team to varsity status.
It also argues surveys reveal insufficient interest to support any new women’s teams. It acknowledges survey response was low.
Brann cited statistics that showed a disparity over the years of sports opportunities for women compared with their percentage of the student body.
For example, in the 2017-18 academic year women comprised 55.54 percent of the student body but the number of sports participation opportunities for them was 52.18 percent, a gap of 3.35 percent.
Between 1995 and 2007 the participation gap was in double digits each year, with it being as high 17.39 percent in 2002-03.
The university, which has 2,634 full-time students of which 1,463 are women, claims the participation gap this year decreased to 2.25 percent.
Brann noted some of the figures for this year are anticipated and not actual so he could not consider them in deciding the university’s summary judgment motion.
Another issue in the litigation is whether there are inequities between men and women sports in such areas as equipment, apparel, practice time, locker rooms, competition facilities and weight room access.
The students’ expert, Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources, a consulting firm in Connecticut, found there were.
The university claimed her report does not reflect the current situation and it questioned some of her methodology.
Although not mentioned in Brann’s opinion, the university has noted in court filings that under new president Robert M. Pignatello the decision was made to add women’s golf and tennis over the next two years.
The eight female athletes filed suit in 2017 in an effort to prevent the university from eliminating the women’s swim team and demoting field hockey from Division I to Division II. Neither has occurred.
Their suit also seeks a court order requiring LHU to provide the swim and field hockey teams with funding, staffing and recruiting resources commensurate with their varsity status. An attempt to resolve the issues through mediation failed.