The University has agreed to pay over $1.13 million in attorney’s fees and $40,000 in litigation costs to the plaintiffs of Cohen v. Brown University following a Tuesday order by U.S. District Court Chief Judge John McConnell, according to court documents from the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.
The payment will cover expenses incurred by a group of women student-athletes who filed a motion against the University in 2020 after it demoted several women’s varsity teams to club status, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. The University’s payment will be split between the plaintiffs’ counsel and the ACLU Foundation of Rhode Island, according to court documents.
The University and plaintiffs participated in mediation sessions on Sept. 14 and Oct. 25 to determine the amount the University would pay, according to court documents. The resolution of these sessions was approved by McConnell earlier today.
The 2020 motion was filed by the original plaintiffs of Cohen v. Brown, who reopened legal proceedings as an extension of their 1992 lawsuit which found the University had denied equal athletic opportunities to women athletes guaranteed under Title IX, according to the ACLU’s press release. The group alleged that the University had broken the equal opportunity agreement it had committed to in the 1998 resolution of the Cohen v. Brown case, but the case settled out of court, according to Brian Clark, associate vice president for news and editorial development and university spokesperson. The settlement for the 2020 motion was approved in December of that year The Herald previously reported.
As part of that settlement, the University agreed to pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees” for the plaintiffs as well as cover costs for their attorneys, the ACLU press release stated.
“Regardless of what the plaintiff may have alleged, we did not violate the joint agreement or Title IX — and no court ever found that we did,” Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “We settled the case, bringing back the two teams and agreeing to pay attorneys fees, in order to (1) move forward with the key provisions of our plan to strengthen the competitiveness of its athletics teams; (2) set an end date to the joint agreement in 2024; and (3) avoid the time and expense of extended litigation.”
“The comments from the plaintiffs’ attorney regarding today’s order are blatantly misleading. The order to pay attorneys’ fees does not constitute any court decision regarding the substance of the 2020 legal claims by the plaintiffs in Cohen v. Brown,” Clark continued. “Brown has at no time since the original decision in Cohen v. Brown more than 25 years ago been found in violation of Title IX. Instead, Brown has remained committed to providing equal athletic opportunities for women and men.”
The 2020 settlement — which mandated the reinstatement of the women’s varsity fencing and equestrian teams — required that the University neither eliminate any women’s varsity teams nor add any men’s varsity teams without the comparable addition of a women’s team, according to the ACLU press release.
“Countless women locally and nationally have benefitted from the efforts of women at Brown who have championed this case over three decades through to its current conclusion,” said Lynette Labinger, class counsel and cooperating attorney from the ACLU of Rhode Island, in the press release.
“We hope this substantial award … will send a message to all colleges and universities in Rhode Island and elsewhere to carefully examine their athletic programs, renew their commitment to ensure their women athletes are being treated fairly and equitably and to recognize that decisions to cut programs to save money may prove more costly than the projected savings themselves.”
Though the University’s 1998 agreement is set to expire in 2024, Title IX still mandates that it must provide equal athletic opportunities across genders, the press ACLU release noted.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the University settled the 2020 court case on the grounds that it had broken the equal opportunity agreement it had committed to in the 1998 resolution of the Cohen v. Brown case. The Herald regrets the error.