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University settles Title IX lawsuit

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 21 - February 23, 1995

Virginia Tech and lawyers representing Virginia Tech students, who sued the university alleging gender discrimination, have reached a settlement pending final approval by Virginia Attorney General James Gilmore.

While agreeing to settle the suit and pay a total of $50,000 to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, the university denied any and all charges in the plaintiffs' complaint. By accepting this settlement, plaintiffs accepted and endorsed the university's sports expansion plan as originally announced on May 16. The settlement was considerably less than what lawyers had originally demanded. The attorney general has indicated that he will sign the settlement.

"We believe the university has a very strong defense and would ultimately have won the case in court. However, the cost of that defense would have been considerably more than this settlement. It is in the best interests of all parties to settle and get on with the more important tasks of expanding sports opportunities for women at Virginia Tech. Further litigation may have extended over many months and would have placed the university in a position of apparent contention with Tech student athletes already so ably representing the university," said President Paul Torgersen.

Over the last several years the university has expanded women's sports opportunities. In recent years Tech upgraded salaries of women's sports coaches to conform to market standards, modified facilities, and significantly increased operating support including adding $140,000 in 1993-94 alone. Ground will be broken soon for a new softball field. Women's soccer was added in 1993-94 to become the eighth women's sport on the university's intercollegiate roster. Women's lacrosse began in spring 1995 and women's softball will be added to the sports roster in the 1995-96 school year.

Since 1988, the university made significant changes in funding support for women's sports. "Over the last five years Virginia Tech has demonstrated good faith and good progress in approaching gender equity. We have been working on the actual Title IX plan for a number of years," said Minnis Ridenour, executive vice president.

"Since the first day of the lawsuit, our focus has not changed. Our original plan, which was accepted by the litigants, remains our blueprint for expansion of women's sports opportunities," said athletic director Dave Braine.

In February 1993, Tech convened a study committee, the Non-Revenue and Women's Sports Study Committee, to review and make recommendations on Title IX issues. Based upon recommendations from the study committee and the University Athletic Committee, the athletic department prepared a plan to fully address gender equity within a five-year period. When all planned changes are implemented, the university will support 11 men's and 10 women's intercollegiate sports. Athlete participation will approximately mirror the gender ratio of Virginia Tech student enrollment.

These actions should bring Virginia Tech into full compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Over the past six years, there has been renewed activity and emphasis at schools across the country attempting to achieve Title IX compliance. Ambiguity in the law was not resolved until 1987 when the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 mandated that receipt of federal funds for any program required compliance with Title IX in all of the institution's programs. As a result, the 1972 law was clarified and institutions with intercollegiate athletics were required to comply with its mandates.

In the order issued by the U.S. District Court in Roanoke, both parties (the litigating women students and the university) mutually agreed to resolve all outstanding issues. The basis of understanding was the university's Women's Intercollegiate Sports Expansion Plan. In addition to adding selected women's sports, Tech's plan calls for, by 1995-96, participation in women's sports within 3 percent of the overall female share of full-time undergraduate enrollment. According to the plan, by 1996-97, financial aid for women will be within three percent of the overall female share of full-time undergraduate enrollment.

"We are proud that our plan is even more aggressive than what was actually asked of us and that the court recognized it as a responsible solution. To our knowledge this plan is more comprehensive than any other in the country," said Steve Horton, assistant athletic director.