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It’s been six years since 10 female athletes sued St. Cloud State University, alleging violations of the 1972 Title IX law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools and colleges.
The women filed their lawsuit in 2016 after the university, facing a budget crisis, eliminated six of its sports teams, including women’s tennis and Nordic skiing. They argued that the university had continually under-resourced women’s athletics, including providing lesser practice facilities.
In 2019, after a trial, a federal judge found that St. Cloud State was in violation of Title IX at least since 2014. He ordered the university to take steps to bring gender equity to its athletic programs.
Since then, St. Cloud State has taken steps to comply, including the controversial decision to cut its men’s football program in 2019, partly for budget reasons. It also cut men’s and women’s golf, added men’s soccer and improved practice facilities and locker rooms.
SCSU wants permanent injunction dissolved
The university has filed updates on its progress with the court every six months. It asked the court to dissolve a permanent injunction filed after the 2019 decision, arguing that it is now in compliance with Title IX.
In a ruling filed Sept. 7, U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ruled that the St. Cloud State is providing equitable opportunities for participation for male and female athletes.
But he said the university failed to show it’s in full compliance with Title IX relating to travel and per diem, and needs to update its policies to ensure equal treatment for both men’s and women’s teams.
Judith Siminoe, special adviser to the university’s president, called the ruling “absolutely good news.”
“Our preference would have been that the order would have indicated that the university is in compliance overall,” she said.
Interim athletic director Holly Schreiner said the ruling shows that St. Cloud State has worked hard to meet the law.
“We’re really excited to hopefully move out of being under the court ruling, and to just be able to maintain moving forward and making sure that internally, we’re still in compliance with Title IX,” she said.
Schreiner said they’re working on travel and per diem policies and hope to submit a plan to the court within the next few weeks.
It will cover how frequently teams travel by bus or plane, how far they travel, hotel stays and per diem for meals.
Siminoe said in the past, many of those decisions have been left up to the coaches, but the judge said that’s not good enough.
“You need to actually have a written policy to make certain that these individual decisions are going to result in an equitable program overall,” she said.
Compliance with the law
Attorney Donald Chance Mark Jr. represents the female athletes who sued. He said the university has made some improvements, but still isn’t where it needs to be when it comes to gender equity.
“We will certainly agree that they’ve made some progress,” Mark said. “But either you’re in compliance with the law, or you aren’t.”
Mark said he and his clients disagreed with St. Cloud State’s decision to cut men’s football. A better solution would have been to add another women’s program, such as lacrosse, he said.
“They had a much easier solution that they should have abided by,” he said.
Creating a men’s soccer team didn’t make sense because there aren’t other university-level teams in Minnesota for St. Cloud to play, Mark said, so the team ends up traveling extensively out of state.
And while the university did reinstate women’s tennis and Nordic skiing, Mark said it isn’t adequately recruiting or promoting those programs. Nordic skiing fielded just a couple of athletes last year, despite the rising popularity of the sport in Minnesota thanks to Olympian Jessie Diggins, he said.
Schreiner said adding another sport such as lacrosse when the university was already stretched for funding didn’t make sense.
“It’s more than just the financial burden that comes with paying for a coach and student athletes. It’s support staff, it’s athletic trainers, it’s equipment people,” she said. “To just keep adding when you don’t have the support staff to be able to maintain them isn’t always the right answer.”
Schreiner said men’s soccer is growing exponentially in the St. Cloud region, so adding a team made sense. She said they hope other colleges and universities in Minnesota will add teams in the near future.
The female athletes who sued St. Cloud State have all moved on. Some live and work in Minnesota, and some are in other states or abroad. But Mark said they’re all still following the case.
“They’re proud of what they’ve done,” he said. “And they’re certainly interested in what steps St. Cloud State takes in the future to make sure that there’s equity for all athletes.”