The legal team representing women student-athletes at Brown University who brought suit in June  following cuts to the varsity athletics program announced today that it and the University have reached  a proposed settlement agreement that will preserve gender equity for women athletes at Brown. The  settlement will ensure that Brown adheres to its promise, made more than two decades ago, to comply  with Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal access to athletic programs for female athletes. 

Under the settlement, Brown has agreed to reinstate its women’s varsity equestrian and fencing teams.  It has further agreed to maintain full support for those teams and not to reduce future support as  compared to men’s teams’ support. Brown also agreed not to eliminate or reduce the status of any  women’s varsity team or add any men’s team for at least the next four years, during which the  University will be required to comply with the consent decree it agreed to in 1998. The consent decree  will expire on August 31, 2024, but the University must still ensure equal opportunities in its athletics  programs under Title IX. The settlement was announced by attorneys Lynette Labinger, cooperating  counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Leslie Brueckner of Public Justice  and Arthur Bryant, now with the law firm of Bailey & Glasser, the attorneys who represented the  plaintiffs in the Cohen v Brown suit that resulted in the school agreeing to the original consent decree and by attorneys Jill Zwagerman and Lori Bullock, of Newkirk Zwagerman in Des Moines, Iowa, who  joined the legal team in 2020 to take on this challenge. 

Lynette Labinger, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs stated: “We are very pleased to report that we have  convinced Brown that compliance with its obligations under Title IX and the 1998 agreement will  result in the restoration of two of the varsity teams for women that it had slated for elimination. This  is a bittersweet outcome, because of the reality that, if Brown was determined to shrink the size of its  athletic program, we could not stop it and save all five of the women’s teams. But through our efforts  and the overwhelming contributions and energy of the student-athletes, we have ensured that Brown  will provide meaningful participation opportunities for more women athletes and not simply push  numbers around on a page. We support the settlement because we believe that it will both preserve  gender equity and maximize the athletic opportunities for Brown’s women athletes now and in the  future.”


Additional Links:

Court Challenge Filed To Brown University’s Abandonment of Gender Equity in Athletics Programs

Video: Atty Labinger Discusses Court Challenge-Brown University’s Abandonment of Gender Equity in Athletics

ACLU Case Notes/Updates


disparity allowed under the original consent decree. The legal team representing Brown athletes told  the court that such cuts would result in “immediate and irreparable harm.”  

“Brown’s internal emails disclosed that its administrators were fixated on the fact that Brown, alone  among its peers, was subject to the Joint Agreement and wanted to, in its words, ‘kill this pestilential  thing,’” said Arthur Bryant of Bailey & Glasser, LLP, the women’s co-counsel, now and in the original  suit for Public Justice. “That showed us Brown had — and has — a fundamental misunderstanding of  Title IX, which the Joint Agreement embodies. We could agree to end the agreement in four years to  get Brown to provide real participation opportunities for many more women athletes than it wanted  now. We are confident that, after four years, women athletes at Brown will have at least as much  protection under Title IX than they had under the Joint Agreement, or we would never have agreed  to let it end. Title IX requires gender equity. If Brown University violates Title IX, we’ll be back.” 

“We are pleased that Brown has recognized its obligations to women athletes and its obligations under  the law,” added Public Justice Senior Attorney Leslie Brueckner. “At a time when our country is  striving to become more equal, and is beginning to acknowledge and address the sins of the past,  Brown should be setting the standard for inclusiveness and opportunity. Today’s settlement is a  welcome step in that direction.” 

“We could not require Brown to restore all of the women’s teams it eliminated, but we did force  Brown to comply with the consent decree and Title IX — and provide gender equity to its female  student-athletes,” said Lori Bullock of Newkirk Zwagerman, co-counsel in the case along with the  firm’s Jill Zwagerman. “We are proud to have made it do that. We are honored to advocate for and  represent these amazing young women, who are extraordinarily accomplished in and passionate about  their sports.” 

A copy of a joint statement by the parties and the terms of the settlement agreement, along with background  information on the case, Cohen v. Brown University, can be found here

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Brown and the attorneys representing the plaintiff class in the Cohen v. Brown case have reached  a proposed settlement on plaintiffs’ June 29 court challenge to Brown’s restructuring of its athletics  program. The original Cohen case was settled in 1998 by Joint Agreement. The plaintiffs’ recent  motion alleged violation of that Joint Agreement.  

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Brown’s women’s equestrian and women’s fencing  teams will be restored to varsity status and the Joint Agreement will terminate in August 2024. All  other changes to Brown’s athletics program announced in May 2020 will remain unaffected by the  parties’ settlement, including that women’s golf, skiing, and squash will continue at club status  and women’s and co-ed sailing will remain at their newly-elevated varsity status, with each varsity  sailor counted once for purposes of the Joint Agreement.  

The Joint Agreement, which has been in effect since October 1998, will terminate on August 31,  2024, and Brown will remain subject to Title IX. While the Joint Agreement is in effect, Brown  will comply with the Agreement’s maximum 2.25% difference between the percentage of women  varsity athletes and women full-time undergraduates. During this time, Brown will not reduce the  status of or eliminate any women’s varsity teams and will not add any new men’s varsity teams.  

The parties will incorporate these terms into a Proposed Amendment to the Joint Agreement, which  will be submitted to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of  Rhode Island for his approval upon notice to the Cohen class. Brown’s women’s equestrian and  fencing teams will be restored to varsity status upon preliminary approval of the proposed  settlement, which is expected to be presented to the Court next week.  

The Settlement Terms approved by the parties are attached. 

Brown v. Cohen Term Sheet - Executed by Parties-signed2020-0917

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