Clemson University athletes took on the school over what they alleged was a lack of gender equity and Title IX compliance.
The legal action brought results, as WYFF News 4 reported that Clemson will pay the athletes’ legal fees as part of a settlement to “avoid the expense of litigation, and while denying potential liability.” The letters between Clemson and two law firms representing athletes were dated April 22, the same day the Clemson athletic department announced it would reinstate the men’s track and field teams and cross country programs, and it will start the process of adding at least one women’s program in order to comply with Title IX regulations.
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The settlement stems from Nov. 5, 2020, when Clemson announced it was eliminating the men’s track and cross country programs after the 2020-21 school year.
Bailey & Glasser’s release about the settlement said the elimination of the track and cross country teams “was a clear violation of Title IX, which, among other things, prohibits educational institutions like Clemson from eliminating teams for which interest, ability, and competition are available unless ‘intercollegiate level participation opportunities for male and female students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.’”
In 2019, Clemson had 312 male student-athletes and 318 female student-athletes, but just $6,650,912 of the school’s $16,869,840 of athletic financial aid went to female student-athletes. Lawyers Arthur Bryant, of Bailey & Glasser, and Lori Bullock, of Newkirk Zwagerman, P.L.C., wrote to Clemson president James P. Clements in March threatening class action suits due to an alleged lack of Title IX compliance.
Further legal action was avoided last week, when Clemson lawyers sent two letters titled “Resolution of Potential Title IX Litigation.” They went to Bailey & Glasser, which represented Clemson’s male athletes, and Newkirk Zwagerman, which represented the female athletes demanding gender equity. The school agreed to settle with both groups, paying $235,083 to Bailey & Glasser and $36,637 to Newkirk Zwagerman. According to WYFF, the settlement money will not go to the student-athletes, instead being used to cover legal fees.
“We are thrilled that Clemson’s courageous male and female student-athletes stood up for their rights and forced Clemson to treat them equally and comply with Title IX,” Bryant said. “As these historic settlement agreements show, Title IX guarantees all student-athletes equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment. If schools don’t provide that, they will be held accountable.”
“It isn’t easy fighting against the school you love dearly, but, when it comes to equal opportunity, it’s necessary,” Clemson track athlete Harleigh White said. “As a senior student-athlete, a nursing major/psych minor, and a leader of the women’s empowerment group, I knew we had to battle. Track and cross country are team sports, we are a family, and I will always fight for what is right.”
Clemson also pledged to create a gender equity plan by July 1, 2022 and publicly report participation figures for male and female student-athletes through 2025 in order to show a commitment to Title IX compliance. According to WYFF, other changes coming to the Clemson athletic department in order to meet athletes’ needs include:
- Allow the women’s rowing team members to keep warmups and gear
- Expand meal options for the women’s rowing team
- Provide an equal amount of equipment and supplies to men’s and women’s team
- Schedule movie nights for female student-athletes
- Ensure it is offering equal medical and athletic training services and equipment to male and female student-athletes
- Offer the pool in the football facility to female student-athletes for rehab and training
- Provide flights to away games and hotel lodging for home games for both men’s and women’s sports equally
- Provide travel uniforms and fitted suits to men and women
- Provide individual lockers and name plates on those lockers for all student-athletes
“My original letter to Clemson’s President said ‘Clemson is apparently depriving male student athletes of equal opportunities to participate in violation of Title IX and female student athletes of equal athletic financial aid, treatment, and benefits in violation of Title IX. All of this has to stop.’ Now, as a result of these students’ willingness to step up and fight for equity, it will,” Bullock said.