Title IX lawyers give UConn ultimatum: Reinstate the women’s rowing team or there will be a lawsuit

Lori Riley, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

Lawyers representing the UConn women’s rowing team sent a letter to UConn president Thomas Katsouleas on Monday stating that if the university did not reinstate the women’s rowing program, a class action lawsuit would be filed against the university and the lawyers would seek a preliminary injunction immediately to preserve the status of the team, which is set to be cut after this season.

The letter gave a deadline of April 19 for the university to respond.

On March 29, 23 UConn rowing alumnae filed a Title IX complaint against UConn stating that cutting the women’s rowing team would result in further inequities between male and female athletes at the school.

Last June, the university announced it was going to cut women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s cross country due to a $10 million budget shortfall.

Rowing coach Jen Sanford was shocked, believing that Title IX would have saved the program. Rowing alumni and current athletes mobilized to send letters to the university, one last year and another in March, with signatures from UConn athletes across the spectrum.

“We’re hoping that this can get resolved without going any further than sending the letter,” said Kathy Les, a 2009 UConn rowing alumna who is now an assistant coach for the team. “We have a big group of rowing alums who are supporting the team through this.

“We had a call Sunday with our rowing community, alums, Title IX experts, parents, friends, family — just an informational meeting. We shared the letters that have been written so far, sent to the board of directors, the president, the athletic director, some of which haven’t gotten a response, some of which did.”

When the complaint was filed, the university responded by saying the school was in compliance with Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal participation opportunities for women in education.

A spokesman from UConn said the school received the letter Tuesday and had no further comment other than the statement issued when the Title IX complaint was filed.

“UConn used its best efforts to eliminate the fewest possible teams in the review, which included a careful analysis of Title IX compliance,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said in an email after the complaint was filed. “While the University certainly understands and appreciates the disappointment of those who supported the Women’s Rowing Team, we are confident that our actions in regard to that team and the other three eliminated teams were consistent with the University’s obligations under Title IX.”

Monday’s letter was sent by Felice Duffy, a Title IX lawyer who successfully fought to establish a women’s soccer team at UConn in 1979, and James Larew and Claire Diallo, who represented swimmers at the University of Iowa who fought to have their program reinstated recently.

“I had a great experience as a student athlete at UConn, and I know that UConn is able to provide quality experiences for all their athletes,” Duffy said. “I hope we can resolve this quickly for the benefit of everyone.”

The case for inequity centers on how athletes are counted and that a female participation gap existed before the cuts.

“Our clients hope to try to build this community back up through reasonable negotiation,” the letter stated. “As when faced with the data, it is clear that UConn cannot cut this women’s rowing team. Our clients are ready, however, if necessary, to force the University to do the right thing, as I have done previously.”

Les said after the virtual meeting on Sunday, the team’s mood was positive. Two members of Yale’s 1976 women’s rowing team who protested against Title IX inequities at the school by stripping down in the athletic director’s office with the words “Title IX” inked on their bodies, were part of the call.

“That was really motivating and inspirational,” Les said. “Those women are amazing. The women on our team were inspired by them. It’s something that’s keeping us going right. The mood now is very hopeful.”

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.