A federal judge on Monday shielded Michigan State University president Samuel Stanley Jr. from being deposed in a lawsuit aimed at preserving the school's women's swimming and diving teams that were cut last year.
However, as reported by The Detroit News, magistrate judge Phillip Green of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled that MSU athletic director Alan Haller must give a deposition but set limits on the length of the legal proceeding and parameters for topics he can be questioned about.
Eleven women from MSU's swimming and diving teams sued the university, Stanley, former athletic director Bill Beekman and the Board of Trustees in January 2021 after the university announced it was planning to eliminate the swimming programs for men and women after the 2020-21 season. The cuts represented MSU's first in two decades, with Beekman citing financial problems associated from the pandemic and infrastructure issues.
The women sought an injunction and argued that MSU's decision violated Title IX legislation that requires universities to offer the equivalent number of sports opportunities to women as it does men.
In February 2021, U.S. district judge Hala Jarbou denied that request. Last month, in a 2-1 opinion, a three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Jarbou miscalculated the “participation gap," a key issue when determining if Title IX is being violated, and told Jarbou to re-examine the request for a preliminary injunction.
After the Court of Appeals ruling last month, three Michigan State University trustees raised the possibility of reinstating both the men's and women's swimming and diving programs.
Oral arguments on whether Stanley and Haller could be deposed were held March 9.
Lori Bullock, a Des Moines, Iowa-based attorney representing the former MSU athletes, said lawyers representing the university argued that Stanley's testimony would be duplicitous but the teams of lawyers representing the MSU women's swim and dive team disagreed, The Detroit News reported.
"We are disappointed,” said Bullock, who specializes in Title IX law at the Bailey Glasser LLP law firm. “We believe that President Stanley is the individual at MSU who is ultimately charged with ensuring compliance with Title IX. He is also the individual who at the end of the day approved the elimination of the women’s swimming and diving team. We believe he had relevant information regarding that decision.”
Bullock said Green's order that Haller submit to a deposition, albeit limited, would be valuable.
"We believe that will be very helpful in establishing …. what MSU is doing to get itself into compliance," Bullock said. “The lawsuit alleged that MSU is out of compliance with Title IX because when they cut the women’s team, they no longer offer a proportional amount of participation opportunities to their male and female student-athletes.”
Green set limits on Haller's testimony.
"Mr. Haller’s deposition shall not exceed three hours in length, not including reasonable breaks," Green wrote.
He also limited Haller's deposition to the following subjects, as reported by The Detroit News:
• Communications Haller may have had with MSU coaches or athletic department staff concerning MSU's athletic participation opportunities under Title IX.
• Communications Haller may have had with Beekman related to MSU’s athletic participation opportunities under Title IX.
• The status, including current status, of MSU's swimming and diving team pool facilities that existed as of October of 2020, when MSU announced its decision to discontinue the program.
Bullock said Beekman, now MSU's vice president for strategic initiatives, already sat for a seven-hour deposition in January.
While the program is no longer operating, Bullock said the women's team members, about 30 of them, are still attending MSU and are ready to participate if the program is preserved.