Time’s up: W&M avoids Title IX lawsuit — for now

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The College of William & Mary may have avoided at Title IX lawsuit after cutting three women's sports teams: Women's swimming, volleyball and track. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)
The College of William & Mary may have avoided at Title IX lawsuit after cutting three women’s sports teams: Women’s swimming, volleyball and track. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)

The College of William & Mary might have avoided a Title IX lawsuit after suspending seven varsity sports programs.

Arthur H. Bryant, of Bailey & Glasser LLP law firm, told WYDaily Thursday the university had sent a letter at 4:44 p.m. Wednesday, just before his deadline.

Bryant, who represents the three women’s sports teams who had been cut by the university — women’s swimming, track and volleyball teams — had sent W&M President Katherine Rowe a letter which gave the university an ultimatum: Respond to his request to reinstated the three teams by Wednesday or face a Title IX lawsuit.

RELATED STORY: Lawsuit against W&M may be in the horizon over women’s sports programs cut; Rowe apologizes for copied letter, saying it was a ‘mistake’

“So yes we did hear from William & Mary,” Bryant said Thursday. “So of course at 4:44 east coast [time] yesterday, we heard from them and they have told us they actually have a plan where they are going to be in or close to compliance next year…and we’re looking at it and trying to evaluate what we think.”

When asked if he could send W&M’s response, Bryant said he would rather WYDaily contact Carrie Nee, the university’s attorney, instead.

“What I can say is they are going to add women to several of the teams next year that they are keeping and they are going to cap several of the men’s teams including the football to comply with Title IX,” Bryant said.

He said in the university’s letter, “there will be no need to reinstate their teams because they will come close to complying with Title IX.”

Bryant is not filing a lawsuit at this time but is going to “explore that.”

On Wednesday, Bryant told WYDaily the elimination of the three women’s varsity sports teams “clearly violates Title IX.”

“Under the law, W&M has to provide opportunities to play sports for women and men that are ‘substantially proportionate’ to their undergraduate enrollment rates,” he said. “The elimination of the three women’s teams and the men’s teams would put women at about 50 percent of the athletic participation opportunities when they are almost 58 percent of the undergraduate student body.”

“That’s a violation of the law, it’s straight out sex discrimination — we obviously hope William & Mary will reinstate the three women’s team without the need for litigation but we’re prepared to sue if we have to.”

What’s in the letter?

William & Mary spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet wrote in an email on Wednesday the university was “in the process of finalizing a response that will be sent to the attorneys later” that day.

When WYDaily asked for a copy of the statement sent to Bryant, Clavet said she would forward the request to the university’s FOIA officer.

“As this is a request for a document, by way of copy I am forwarding your request to our FOIA officer,” Clavet wrote.

Lillian Stevens, the university’s FOIA officer, did not acknowledge she was in receipt of the FOIA request nor was she available for comment.

It’s unclear what else the university’s statement to Bryant entailed.

Nee, W&M’s attorney, was also not immediately available for comment.

A little background

On Sept. 3, W&M announced it would cut seven varsity sports programs including men’s and women’s swimming; men’s Indoor and outdoor track & field; and women’s volleyball.

In the days following the announcement, the university faced backlash from student-athletes, faculty, alumni and other members of the college community.

The open letter which announced the cuts showed W&M Athletics Director Samantha Huge along with the Rowe and Provost Peggy Agouris, had plagiarized parts of the letter, copying complete sentences and paraphrasing others from the Stanford University’s open letter announcing their sports cuts in July.

Huge released a statement about the letter, saying she had “consulted” with the university and others, too. Six days later, Rowe released a statement adding the letter she and her colleagues co-signed “did not rise to William & Mary’s standards” and “this was a mistake.”

RELATED STORY: Plagiarizing parts of Stanford U’s letter: Students, staff subject to the Honor Code. So, what happens to W&M’s athletics director?

Agouris did not release a statement surrounding the open letter’s controversy. It remains unclear why the university did not cite Stanford’s statement or come up with their own letter announcing the sports program cuts.

It’s also unclear why the university’s administration did not release a joint statement after the plagiarism was revealed.

Since the statements to the community, the W&M Board of Visitors had a “listening session” on Sept. 23 where the student assembly read a joint-resolution –– the “For the Bold” resolution — which called for more transparency from the athletics department and the administration over the cuts and the way the university had handled the news: Sharing the news with student-athletes and their coaches in a seven-minute Zoom call.

Bryant’s letter threatening a lawsuit was sent to Rowe the same day.

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