GREENSBORO — Guilford College will expand and spend more money on its women’s sports program to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by athletes and coaches.
The private liberal arts college also agreed to improve conditions for its women athletes and to form a new committee to monitor gender equity in athletics.
The federal lawsuit — filed in Greensboro in 2017 by two former coaches and 14 former and current student-athletes — alleged that Guilford treated its male student-athletes far better than the women who played sports for the Quakers. The suit named both the college and former athletics director Tom Palombo.
The consent decree, a compromise agreed to by both the college and the plaintiffs, was signed by U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. on May 3. The Connecticut law firm hired by the plaintiffs put out a news release about the settlement Tuesday.
“It’s a victory for both sides,” Felice Duffy, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Guilford College President Jane Fernandes noted Wednesday that the federal court “made no determination that the college had done or is doing anything wrong. But we decided to use the opportunity to look hard at our athletics program and try some new things.
“We like the idea of attracting student-athletes who are interested in the sports we offer. Change can be a good thing, and collaboration that benefits everyone is always a good thing.”
In the settlement, Guilford College agreed to:
• Add two women’s varsity sports teams, which it did right after it signed the consent decree. Guilford announced in May that it would start a women’s rugby team. A month later, it said it would launch a women’s triathlon team. Both teams will recruit players in the 2019-20 academic year that starts in August and start play no later than 2020-21.
Fernandes said Wednesday that the college worked with current and former students to pick two sports that would appeal to women athletes. Rugby and triathlon, she said, “were the best fit for us.” Fernandes also said Wednesday that the triathlon team got a three-year grant from USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in the United States.
The two new sports brings Guilford’s total to 22 teams — 10, including football, for men and 12 for women.
• Provide better facilities and facility access for women’s teams. Among the changes: The women’s tennis team will get a locker room, the women’s swimming team will use the Greensboro Aquatics Center for practices and meets and the softball team will have “regular and equitable” access to indoor batting and pitching areas used by the baseball team.
Before the agreement was signed, Guilford opened six new women’s locker rooms last fall as part of a long list of campus improvements. A new softball stadium is scheduled to open next year.
• Develop what the decree calls a “consistent approach” for providing sports equipment and apparel to women athletes and “a uniform and gender-equal policy” to cover meals for all athletes when they’re traveling to and from games.
• Create equitable schedules for use of practice and game facilities and medical training facilities. The college also agreed to equitable social media publicity for both men’s and women’s teams.
• Spend an extra $10,000 annually for two years to recruit players for four women’s teams: swimming, track and field, cross country and tennis. Those four teams have smaller rosters than the average of other teams in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, the NCAA Division III conference that Guilford joined in 1991.
• Form an Equity in Athletics Committee to monitor Guilford’s compliance with the settlement. The 12-member committee will include the athletics director and other college administrators, at least two men’s and women’s team coaches, two current student-athletes and two plaintiffs, Taryn McFadden and Tess Stryk. McFadden played on the rugby club team, which isn’t considered a varsity sport, and graduated from Guilford in 2017. Stryk, a 2016 graduate, played soccer and ran track and cross country.
• Host at least one conference to teach leadership and teamwork to young women athletes. The plaintiffs will help plan and conduct the event.
The consent decree will remain in effect through the end of the 2023-24 academic year.
Duffy called the agreement “pretty unusual.” In many cases brought like this one under Title IX — the federal statute that prohibits gender discrimination in education — the two sides often want nothing to do with one another after a lawsuit is resolved. Here, two court-appointed mediators helped the college and the former students-turned-plaintiffs come to a compromise that will have the two sides working together to carry out the terms of the settlement.
“(Guilford’s) president and athletic director have indicated to us and the students that they are committed to gender equity,” said Duffy, a former college soccer coach who specializes in Title IX cases. “That’s more important to me — that the attitudes are there to make it work.”
When the suit was filed in October 2017, the two sides seemed far apart. In their 91-page lawsuit, the women student-athletes accused Guilford of providing far less support to women’s sports than it did to its men’s teams.
The plaintiffs in their lawsuit said women athletes often got hand-me-down equipment and less meal money than men on road trips. Women’s teams shared locker rooms while men’s teams had their own spaces. Women swimmers had to drive themselves to practice at a high school pool after Guilford closed its on-campus pool. Men’s teams got priority for facilities used for practice, games and injury treatment. Men’s teams also got more publicity and booster club money.
Also according to the lawsuit, Guilford spent more than double on its men’s sports than on its women’s teams. Both the recruiting budgets and the game-day expenses of men’s teams were three times that of women’s teams.
As part of the settlement, Guilford won’t pay compensatory financial damages to the student-athlete plaintiffs, but the college agreed to cover their attorney fees. The amount of that payment wasn’t made public.
The consent decree notes that the college came to a separate settlement in 2018 with Danny and Kimberly Cash, spouses and former coaches of the women’s track and cross country teams.
The Cashes, the two coaches who were among the plaintiffs, claimed that Guilford had discriminated against them and then retaliated when they complained about unequal treatment. Terms of that settlement weren’t disclosed.