Women Athletes Sue Brown Univ.

Trial Lawyer Group Accuses School of Sexual Discrimination

When Brown University officials changed two women's athletic teams from varsity to club status in May 1990, they sparked complaints from women athletes--and a class action lawsuit.

In 1991, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) filed the suit on behalf of current and future women athletes at Brown.

TLPJ charges that Brown has violated congressional act that prohibits sexual discrimination in all collegiate athletics.

Brown officials counter that they changed the status of women's volleyball and gymnastics--as well as men's water polo and golf--in response to budget difficulties, said John P. Miskovsky, executive editor of the Brown Daily Herald.

Brown had mandated cuts in all departments in May 1990 in order to curb its budget deficit.


Also, the university says club status does not deprive the teams of the opportunity to play, Miskovsky said.

But the plaintiffs see the changes as an exacerbation and perpetuation of an already discriminatory situation, he said.

"Allegations were made that female athletes receive fewer privileges and that in general women's programs are not treated equal to men's," Miskovsky said.

The women's teams have complained about inequalities in trainer privileges, ancillary services and locker rooms, he said.

There were also allegations that Brown's athletic director threatened to reduce team privileges if he heard further complaints.

Currently, the plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction that will restore the teams to their original status until the lawsuit is resolved.

"In order to restore the teams to varsity status, you have to show that you're likely to win the lawsuit in the end and that there is irreparable harm," said Lynette Labinger, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argue that a club status during the long course of the lawsuit will cause irreparable damage to the teams, jeopardizing their futures, Labinger said. Non-varsity teams lose the ability to attract top recruits, she said.

Testimony ended two days ago in this preliminary hearing, with a decision expected December 15, Labinger said.

Harvard administrators said yesterday they are conscious of the sexual discrimination issues in intercollegiate athletics.

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