5 student-athletes, Stanford reach settlement over Title IX lawsuit

University must perform review, make plan public.
By: | August 27, 2021
More than 240 students-athletes and 22 coaches participate in the 11 sports Stanford University plans to cut at the end of the 2020-21 school year.(GettyImages/Easyturn)GettyImages/Easyturn

Five student-athletes who filed a Title IX lawsuit in May alleging gender discrimination came to a settlement agreement with Stanford University on Friday, according to a release from attorney Rebecca Peterson-Fisher of The Liu Law Firm, P.C. and the university.

Full details were not disclosed, but under the arrangement Stanford must in the next year review its athletics programs to ensure Title IX compliance and complete it no later than the 2023-24 academic year. That plan must be made public on its website no later than Oct. 1, 2022.

“We were able to work together to come up with a process that will really engage the Stanford athlete community,” said Peterson-Fisher, who noted that Stanford Title IX Coordinator Stephen Chen, a former attorney with U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that oversees Title IX, will play a “significant role in the review and will approve the final plan.”

Attorneys said Stanford’s review will include:

  • “The assessment of gender equity in participation opportunities
  • Provision of equipment and supplies
  • Scheduling of games and practice times
  • Travel and per diem allowances
  • Opportunities to receive coaching and academic tutoring
  • Assignment and compensation of coaches and tutors
  • Provision of locker rooms, practice, and competitive facilities
  • Provision of medical and training facilities and service; provision of housing and dining facilities and services
  • Publicity and athletic scholarship awards.”

Stanford also must create a portal for student-athletes and staff to comment on the review anonymously.

The history of the suit

Each of the athletes (Liana Keesing, Megan Frost, Sophie Molins, Amita Gondi and Ava Jih-Schiff) represents a team that was set to be cut by Stanford – fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, squash and synchronized swimming, respectively. They said Stanford’s cuts would have left an imbalance in the number of male and female athletes in its athletics programs.

Their lawsuit was separate from another launched by students who claimed the university “fraudulently induced” them into believing their sports would continue, potentially denying them from seeking opportunities to play at other institutions. That suit was withdrawn when programs were reinstated, said their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, Partner, Co-Executive Chairman and Co-Chair of Competition and Sports Law Practice Groups at Winston & Strawn.

Stanford had said it was canceling 11 programs overall because of shortfalls brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The costs were estimated to be more than $12 million in FY 21 and as much as $70 million over three years. The movement of “nonrevenue-generating varsity programs” into club sports would effectively save $8 million. The sports they were canceling may not have brought financial gain to the university but certainly, notoriety, producing 27 Olympic medalists and 20 national champions.

The cuts to the women’s programs prompted Peterson-Fisher to say in May: “One reason Title IX has been so successful at increasing women’s participation in college sports is the requirement that schools offer athletic opportunities to women and men that are proportional to the percentage of women and men in the student body. Even before the planned cuts, Stanford’s athletic opportunities disproportionately went to men. Their plan to cut these teams will widen the gender gap even further. Stanford cannot go forward with these planned cuts without further violating Title IX.”

Stanford did reinstate those programs in May but lawsuits moved forward, with compliance in the future being one of the main missions.

“Our goal is gender equity in all aspects of Stanford athletics, and we’re looking forward to working together to achieve that,” said Keesing.

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