Quinnipiac settles discrimination suit

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Quinnipiac University has agreed to settle the gender-equity lawsuit that led a federal judge to rule that competitive cheerleading isn't a sport.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by members of the women's volleyball team after Quinnipiac announced its intent to eliminate that team in favor of competitive cheer, which eventually was renamed acrobatics and tumbling.

Under the proposed settlement, which still must be approved by a judge, Quinnipiac agrees to keep all of its current women's teams, add scholarships and improve facilities for its female athletes.

The school issued a brief statement Friday saying it was pleased the legal process had ended.

"This agreement allows the university to move ahead with our longstanding plans to upgrade our athletic facilities and programs on the Mount Carmel campus, plans that were put on hold during the past four years during this litigation," said Lynn Bushnell, Quinnipiac's vice president for public affairs.

Quinnipiac already has added varsity women's golf and rugby and expanded its women's track program. Under the settlement, those programs will receive more scholarships, coaches and competition.

It also would treat two more women's teams as "sports of emphasis," adding scholarships, coaches, and spending at least $5 million to improve facilities, including locker rooms. The school currently has 13 varsity women's sports and seven men's sports.

David McGuire, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which represented the volleyball players and eventually other women when the case became a class action, said an independent monitor will keep track of the school's progress.

"It's not just about the numbers, it's about the quality of benefits the teams receive," he said. "We believe Quinnipiac is committed to implementing this and coming up with a first-class non-discriminatory athletic program."

The school already was under an injunction issued in this case by U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill in 2010 after he found the school had been manipulating its athletic rosters to make it appear that women had more opportunities than they did. The judge also ruled that competitive cheerleading had not developed enough to be considered a college sport for Title IX purposes. That ruling was upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Title IX, in 1972, opened doors for girls and women by banning sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports.

The school had previously insisted it would continue to pursue acrobatics and tumbling despite the ruling. But on Friday, it backed away from that position.

"The court has ruled that acrobatics and tumbling is not in their view an approved NCAA sport for Title IX purposes, and as a result the university will have to review its status and continuation going forward," Bushnell said in her statement. "The university currently sponsors only NCAA-approved intercollegiate sports and not club sports."

The school is hosting the National Collegiate Athletics & Tumbling Association's national championships this weekend.