In The Title Ix Swimming Case, The U.S. Supreme Court Turned Down Michigan State’s Appeal

In The Title Ix Swimming Case, The U.S. Supreme Court Turned Down Michigan State’s Appeal

In a lawsuit against Michigan State University’s decision to get rid of its women’s swimming and diving team, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it would not decide how strictly to interpret the landmark Title IX civil rights law’s protections for gender equality in college sports.

The high court turned down the university’s appeal of a lower court decision that sided with former team members who say MSU broke Title IX by not giving women enough chances to play sports.

Lori Bullock, a lawyer for the student-athletes suing MSU, said she was “pleased but not surprised” that the Supreme Court denied MSU’s appeal. The court’s decision makes it possible for a trial to start next month as planned.

She said in a statement, “We think the facts make it clear that Michigan State broke Title IX by getting rid of its women’s swimming and diving team.” “We can’t wait to make the school answer for its actions.” MSU said in a statement that it was “disappointed” by the court’s decision, but that it accepted it and would now focus on the trial court proceedings.

At issue is how to tell if a school has met a key benchmark for figuring out if it gives everyone the same chances to participate under Title IX, a 50-year-old law that is credited with giving more female student-athletes the chance to play sports.

The main point of the lawsuit is that MSU said in October 2020 that it would stop sponsoring the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at the end of the school year, citing budgetary problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the school year 2019-2020, those teams had a total of 29 men and 33 women on them. Its whole undergraduate class was made up of 50.9% female students during that year, down from 51.2% the previous year.

In The Title Ix Swimming Case, The U.S. Supreme Court Turned Down Michigan State's Appeal
In The Title Ix Swimming Case, The U.S. Supreme Court Turned Down Michigan State’s Appeal

Eleven female student-athletes at MSU filed a lawsuit to force the university to bring back the women’s team, but a judge denied their request. The judge stated that the disparity in participation rates between the s*xes that was caused by the elimination of the team was not large enough to violate Title IX. She stated that not a single court had ever ruled that a gap of less than 2% constituted a violation of the law.

However, in February, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati, decided that the judge made an error in assessing the participation gap in percentage terms and declared that it must be examined in numerical terms instead.

According to this strategy, a school could fail to meet the proportionality requirements of Title IX even if the gap in participation between male and female student-athletes was only a small size of its athletics program. This would be the case even if the school had a relatively small athletics program.

The case was remanded to U.S. District Judge Hala Jarbou by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. In August, Judge Jarbou had partially sided with the students when she ordered Michigan State University to submit a plan to come into compliance with Title IX, but she declined, in advance of a trial, to force the university to reinstate the team.

MSU contended that the approach taken by the 6th Circuit Court of Appellate was “unworkable” and was in contrast with the way that other federal appeals courts dealt with Title IX in its petition to the Supreme Court.

MSU’s appeal received support from fifteen Republican state attorneys general, led by Ohio’s, who believed the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals was incorrectly requiring “precise, per-capita, s*x-based parity between the student population and athletic possibilities.”

The administration of Democratic President Joe Biden in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was represented by the United States Department of Justice, argued in support of reversing the verdict against the students.

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