Thursday, February 2, 2023

Female swimmers, MSU reach settlement, ending Title IX legal battle

January 14, 2023
Sophia Balow races the 500 Freestyle at CCS Nationals on April 8, 2022 at McAuley Aquatic Center.
Sophia Balow races the 500 Freestyle at CCS Nationals on April 8, 2022 at McAuley Aquatic Center. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Members of MSU’s now-dissolved women’s swim and dive team settled their lawsuit against MSU Friday evening, agreeing to end the case in exchange for further review and revision of Title IX policies by the university's athletic department.

According to a release from the female swimmers' law firm, the settlement agreement will see MSU appoint an independent Gender Equity Director who will conduct a full “gender equity review” of the athletic department. This director will scrutinize the treatment, benefits and athletic financial aid given to male and female athletes. They will work with MSU to create a plan to address any inequalities found in their review and resolve those issues by the 2026-2027 school year. 

The firm said the settlement does not outline any plan for reinstatement of the women’s swim and dive team.

“Our settlement today, while so worthy of celebration, was bittersweet,” plaintiff Elise Turk said in a statement. “Even though our team will not be making a return in the near future, it’s gratifying to know that Michigan State University will be evaluated and held accountable for any future mistreatment of their female athletes.”

Deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said the university is pleased to have reached resolution in the case.

“MSU remains committed to providing equal opportunities for all student-athletes,” Olsen said. “While the university is in compliance with Title IX, these measures will help ensure public trust in our compliance enforcement through an ongoing independent, third-party review.”

The lawsuit followed MSU’s announcement to cut the swim and dive team in October 2020. The swimmers argued by cutting a sport with many roster spots for women, the university had changed the overall gender-ratio of male to female opportunities in sports. Their argument centered around MSU's ability to comply with Title IX, a federal statute which mandates equal athletic participation between men and women at both private and public universities.

In August 2022, a district judge ordered the university submit a plan outlining its Title IX compliance plan. In December, MSU submitted its plan. The university contended in its plan that it was not out of compliance, and if it was to fall short in the future, it would regain compliance with cutting individual roster spots rather than adding a team.

Much of the compliance disagreement centered around how to measure equality of female and male opportunities. While the former swimmers argued the statue demands exact numerical compliance, MSU argued an overall percentage is sufficient. The university’s method would make the current gap – nine more male athletes in the total 800+ roster spots – within compliance of the statute.

In response to the numerical vs. percentage disagreement, MSU asked the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the federal Title IX statute, but the court did not agree to hear the case.

In 2021, the NCAA went through a Gender Equity Review similar to the one outlined in this settlement, following criticism from players and coaches of disproportionately inadequate facilities at a women’s basketball tournament in San Antonio.

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