Lawsuit settlement prevents elimination of UConn rowing
Eighteen months after announcing women’s rowing was among four sports it would eliminate amid a budget crisis, UConn has reached a settlement with a group of rowers that filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school that will not only keep the program alive but also provide improvements.
The settlement, reached Wednesday, will keep the program in place through at least the spring of 2026. U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill granted temporary restraining order in May, a month after 12 rowers filed their lawsuit.
In July, UConn announced it would maintain the program for at least two years as the side worked on a settlement.
Under the settlement agreement, the school not will only agree to keep the program but it will also extend head coach Jennifer Sanford’s contract through 2024 — adding a year to the existing contract — and will maintain 20 scholarships, an increase from 14.
UConn also agrees to upgrade the Coventry Boathouse over the next five years, installing new docks, bathrooms and showers, and covered storage. The school will add rowing tanks at the on-campus Fieldhouse, provide space for indoor practice, meeting, training and a locker room with one locker per rower (45), and will increase the recruiting budge to $35,000 and will include internation
al recruiting. The recruiting budget was $7,301 in 2019.
Also significant: UConn agrees to allow two monitors to audit its athletic programs for Title IX compliance. In his ruling in May, Underhill found UConn had not been compliant with Title IX since 2008.
New Haven attorney Felice Duffy, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the settlement could have an impact on future cases. Duffy’s Title IX complaint as a student at UConn in the late 1970s led to the creation of the women’s soccer program and she has been an expert in the field throughout her career.
This case, Duffy said, involved more than the data (including roster sizes, budget, scholarships, coaches salaries) from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. Many Title IX cases show obvious gaps from that data.
“This was a more complicated case,” Duffy said. “It’s harder for an institution to say, well we don’t have a gap and understand that they still might not be in compliance. So what we did in this case was go behind the numbers and show that there was in fact still a gap after they cut all the teams. … It was a more difficult case, more complex, maybe not so obvious. And in that case, it has a far reaching effect on all the other institutions. You’ve got to look behind the numbers.”
Duffy also said the Title IX monitoring is important part of the settlement.
“I really do think that it’s a win-win for everybody,”
Duffy said. “Perhaps UConn will be one of the first institutions to really take a deep dive like this and work hard — if the monitors determine that they’re not in compliance — and promise to be in compliance, and be monitored for five years. So it’s great. They can still be the school that attracts great female athletes and be a place that provides gender equity.
“These rowers were amazing kids. For them to do that during this past year. Going to a school to row on a scholarship, have the program cut in the middle of a pandemic, was devastating. For them to fight like this, it really shows tremendous strength of character.”
UConn announced in June 2020 that it was cutting women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving, tennis, and cross country. The programs were set to be eliminated in 2021.
In March, a group of former UConn rowers filed a Title IX complaint. The 12 rowers — Sarah Lazor, Grace Johnson, Magdalene Mlynek, Laura Braddick, Emily Jones, Bailey Harris, Molly O’Neill, Teresa Nobles, Emma Pinckney, Josephine Luby, Gayane Gevorkyan, and Jordan Nanai — filed a federal lawsuit in late April and were granted the temporary restraining order in May.
UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said, “The university is pleased we were able to resolve this litigation and arrive at a settlement. Our focus is on supporting this program and moving it forward.”