The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached a settlement with Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York, to resolve issues of women’s access to athletic opportunities at the institution.
The voluntary resolution agreement ends OCR’s investigation of a complaint alleging that the college discriminated on the basis of sex in its intercollegiate athletics program by failing to fully and effectively accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of female students to the extent necessary to provide equal opportunities to members of both sexes.
“I applaud Erie Community College’s ongoing efforts to provide male and female students with an equal opportunity to participate in the college’s intercollegiate athletic program,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “This agreement demonstrates the college’s strong commitment to its students.”
OCR's investigation revealed that over the years participation opportunities for female students were never substantially proportionate to their enrollments in the college. Specifically,
- During academic year 2013-2014, female students represented 48.39 percent of the enrollment and 33.08 percent of the actual athletes;
- During academic year 2012-2013, female students represented 49.69 percent of the enrollment and 28.96 percent of the actual athletes; and
- During academic year 2011-2012, female students represented 50.23 percent of the student enrollment and 34.30 percent of the actual athletes.
OCR also determined that although the college has increased the number of women’s sports since creating the women’s athletics program in the early 1970s, it has also added several men’s sports and cut several sports, including five women’s sports. Therefore, OCR could not conclude that the college has a history of program expansion that is demonstrably responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.
Before OCR had completed its investigation, the college asked to resolve the complaint and on March 3, entered into a resolution agreement.
As part of the agreement, the college will take important steps to evaluate its female students’ and admitted students’ interests and abilities in potential sports, squads, and levels of sports that the college might add. And, it will implement a nondiscriminatory policy or procedure for requesting the addition of sports (including the elevation of intramural teams) and ensuring the effective communication of the policy or procedure to students and others.
In addition, beginning with academic year 2016-2017, if the college identifies a sport or sports in which there is sufficient but unmet interest, and if applicable, ability of female students to participate at the intercollegiate level, the college will add athletics opportunities until such time as either:
- The school is fully and effectively accommodating the expressed interests and abilities of female students (i.e., there remains no unmet interest and ability), or
- The participation rate for female students in intercollegiate athletics program is substantially proportionate to their rate of enrollment.
The college also agreed to conduct periodic assessments of the athletics interests and abilities of its students in subsequent years to ensure it is equally and effectively accommodating the athletic interests and abilities of its male and female students consistent with Title IX and its implementing regulation.