Brown women’s sports settlement gets preliminary approval

A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a settlement between Brown University and student-athletes who had challenged the Ivy League school’s decision to drop several women’s varsity sports

A federal judge on Friday gave preliminary approval to a settlement between Brown University and student-athletes who had challenged the Ivy League school’s decision to drop several women’s varsity sports.

The settlement announced earlier this month 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.

The settlement 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.

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

Under an order entered Friday by U.S. District Judge John McConnell, Jr., the plaintiffs will have until Nov. 24 to raise objections to the settlement. A hearing on whether to approve it is scheduled for Dec. 15, the ACLU said in a statement.

Brown President Christina Paxson in a statement emailed by a university spokesperson Friday said she is pleased with the settlement.

“The Cohen agreement served an important purpose when it was signed 22 years ago, but Brown’s commitment to women athletes transcends the agreement,” the statement said. “We can provide excellent athletics opportunities for women and men, be a leader in upholding Title IX and have a competitive varsity program.”

The 1998 agreement had stemmed from a legal challenge to Brown’s decision to cut women’s gymnastics and volleyball in the early 1990s. Five former Brown student-athletes who were plaintiffs in the 1990s case blasted their alma mater in an open letter published in The Providence Journal on Friday.

“With a new settlement now proposed, we write to express our deep disappointment in what we have discovered: that your commitment to gender equity only goes as far as the letter of the lawsuit,” they wrote.