Fresno St. women athletes can join Title IX class action over sports cuts, Ninth Circuit rules.

The lawsuit, which claims Fresno State’s elimination of women’s lacrosse, wrestling, and men’s tennis, violated Title IX, faced roadblocks to certifying a class for a wider-ranging legal action.

Fresno State’s female athletes can join in a Federal class action lawsuit against the university over Title IX. 

Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated a lower court’s orders denying class certification in a lawsuit filed by six former members of the Fresno State lacrosse team. 


The backstory: In 2020, Fresno State announced that it planned to cut women’s lacrosse, wrestling and men’s tennis following a tough financial outlook amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • All three programs were finished by the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, a decision that the university projected would save $2.5 million annually. 
  • That left Fresno State at 18 NCAA Division 1 sports – six men’s and 12 women’s. The NCAA requires universities in Division 1 to have a minimum of six men’s teams. 
  • Lacrosse had a short lifespan at Fresno State as it started up in 2009. 
  • Following the cuts, in 2021 six former members of the lacrosse team filed a sex discrimination class action against Fresno State, claiming the university violated Title IX by depriving women of equal opportunities to participate. The lawsuit also alleged the university treated the lacrosse team far worse than any other varsity team on campus. 3
  • In February 2022 the former lacrosse players asked the court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all women athletes. The district court twice decided that there was an inherent conflict between athletes who played on different teams, denying the request to certify as a class action. 

The big picture: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the lower court “clearly erred” in its ruling that there is an inherent conflict between athletes on different teams. 

  • The appellate court ruled that how a university achieves the equality required by Title IX – such as “leveling down programs instead of ratcheting them up” – does not create a conflict. The district court’s decision to deny class certification was based on “speculation.” 
  • In simpler terms, the appellate court ruled that women on the lacrosse team can represent women on other teams at Fresno State. 
  • The appellate court also did not analyze the claim that the lacrosse team did not receive equal treatment from Fresno State and sent the case back to the district court. 

What they’re saying: Joshua Hammack, the attorney for the former lacrosse players who argued the appeal, said the Ninth Circuit Court opened a door that the district court tried to “slam shut” twice. 

  • “In a real sense, this order vindicates the brave young women who stood up and demanded that Fresno State provide what Title IX promises – equality,” Hammack said in a statement .”And the Court confirmed that those who seek equality are not in conflict with those who stand to benefit from it. The fight isn’t over, of course, but today is an important step toward justice.” 
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