Fort Valley State University Reinstates Women’s Volleyball Team to Avoid Title IX Suit
Fort Valley State University has agreed to reinstate its women’s volleyball team to avoid a threatened sex discrimination lawsuit by Public Justice. The lawsuit would have charged FVSU with violating Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds.
FVSU, a 4,000-student historically black university located in the small central-Georgia town of Fort Valley, announced its decision to cut the volleyball team and all of its players’ scholarships in late March after it was too late for most players to transfer to a different school. Under the agreement reached today, which is the first day of the school year, FVSU agreed to reinstate the team in time for pre-season practice, renew all scholarships awarded last year, and provide additional scholarships for new and existing players. FVSU also agreed to provide the team with exclusive use of a locker room and all necessary equipment and gear prior to its first game — all of which the school failed to provide in previous years. The full settlement agreement is viewable here:
“Many of us came to Fort Valley on the promise of a scholarship and the opportunity to play volleyball as a Fort Valley Lady Wildcat,” said Stephanie Brownlee. “FVSU’s decision to eliminate our team not only would have robbed us of the ability to play the game that we love, but it also would have left a lot of us without any way to afford our education. I’m glad FVSU decided to do the right thing in the end, and that we had unwavering support from all the Lady Wildcats and our coaches.”
Public Justice served a demand letter on FVSU on July 27, charging that the school’s decision to eliminate the women’s volleyball team violated Title IX’s three-part test for determining whether an educational institution has provided “equal opportunities” for both men and women to participate in school athletics.
The letter stated that FVSU could not demonstrate that it provided substantially equivalent athletic opportunities for male and female athletes; that it had a history of expanding the number of athletic opportunities available to women; or that the interest and abilities of its female athletes had been met. In response to Public Justice’s letter, which raised the possibility of a Title IX lawsuit in federal court, FVSU agreed to reinstate the team and ensure that the team would receive funding and resources comparable to what FVSU provides its men’s athletic teams.
“We’re delighted that FVSU has agreed to reinstate the team in time for the start of the school year under terms that provide the team with the resources it needs to be truly competitive this season — resources that men’s teams at FVSU have enjoyed for years,” said Spencer Wilson, Public Justice’s Brayton-Thornton Attorney, who was co-lead counsel on behalf of the players. “This is a great day for everyone who cares about equal opportunity in sports.”
Public Justice has a long history of enforcing Title IX in the area of intercollegiate athletics. The national public interest law firm has successfully sued several colleges and universities for illegally discriminating against women in athletics, including Brown University, the University of Bridgeport at Connecticut, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and West Chester University.
Along with Wilson, the FVSU women’s volleyball players were represented by co-lead counsel Public Justice Goldberg Attorney Amy Radon; Attorney Mary Helen Moses of St. Simons Island, Ga.; and Public Justice Senior Attorneys Victoria Ni and Leslie Brueckner.