Judge approves settlement in women's sports case at Brown

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, people rest on grass while reading at Brown University in Providence, R.I. The university and attorneys for student-athletes, who challenged the Ivy League school's decision to reduce several women's varsity sports teams to club status, announced a proposed settlement Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) (Steven Senne, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A federal judge on Tuesday approved a settlement between Brown University and student-athletes who had challenged the Ivy League school's decision to drop several women's varsity sports.

U.S. District Judge John McConnell Jr. signed off on the agreement, ending more than two decades of legal battles centering on gender discrimination in collegiate athletics.

The settlement originally announced in September restores the women’s equestrian and women’s fencing teams to varsity status, and calls for an end to a 1998 legal agreement ensuring gender equity in varsity sports at Brown on Aug. 31, 2024.

It stemmed from a legal challenge in June to the Providence, Rhode Island school's decision to reduce several women's varsity sports teams to club status. Several men's sports were also reduced to club status, although some were later restored.

“While we wish we could have convinced Brown to restore all five teams, we were able to hammer out an agreement that has restored at least two and will hold the line against any more cuts for the next four years,” said Lynette Labinger, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

“These are valuable benefits for our women athletes in the face of a growing national trend to shrink college sports programs across the country,” Labinger added.

The June motion by student-athletes represented by attorneys with the ACLU of Rhode Island, Public Justice and two private law firms, alleged that the cuts violated the 1998 pact known as the Cohen agreement after the lead plaintiff.

The 1998 agreement had stemmed from a legal challenge to Brown’s decision to cut women’s gymnastics and volleyball in the early 1990s.

“The now-final settlement enables Brown University to move forward with key provisions of a plan to strengthen the competitiveness of its athletics teams and uphold its long-standing commitment to Title IX in providing equal opportunities in athletics for women and men,” the university said in a statement.

Public Justice attorney Arthur Bryant called the settlement “a great victory for our clients — the female student-athletes and potential student-athletes at Brown — and everyone committed to advancing gender equity.”