Final court approval of Brown v. Cohen settlement sets 2024 end to Joint Agreement

Now-final settlement sets an end date to 1998 agreement that has hindered competitive varsity athletics for women and men at Brown; returns women’s equestrian and fencing teams to varsity status.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — At the conclusion of a Dec. 15 fairness hearing, a U.S. District Court judge approved a settlement agreement to resolve a legal motion in Cohen v. Brown, a decades-old case.

The now-final settlement enables Brown University to move forward with key provisions of a plan to strengthen the competitiveness of its athletics teams and uphold its long-standing commitment to Title IX in providing equal opportunities in athletics for women and men.

The settlement — agreed to in September as a proposal set forth by the University and attorneys representing the plaintiffs — sets an August 2024 end date to a 1998 Joint Agreement in Cohen v. Brown that previously had no end date. The Joint Agreement, which specifies that the fraction of varsity athletics opportunities for women at Brown must be within a fixed percent of the fraction of women in the undergraduate student body, was being used to challenge changes in the University’s varsity sports lineup announced in May of this year.

In approving the settlement, Judge John J. McConnell Jr. of the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island expressed appreciation for Brown President Christina H. Paxson’s commitment to gender equity in athletics.

“My review of the record, and my review of the settlement and the agreement that's been put forth, shows that [Paxson] has remained steadfastly committed to gender equity in athletics at Brown,” McConnell said during the hearing, “that she... has had a commitment to the consent decree and to Title IX that perhaps prior presidents at Brown have not had that caused this lawsuit in the first place, and I believe because of the release of certain documents she got a bad rap. But I think when one looks at the entire record and looks at... all the evidence, I think history will tell us that she has been a strong and capable advocate for gender equity in Brown athletics.”

The plaintiffs in the case had asked the court to overturn Brown’s decisions as part of its Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative to transition five women’s varsity sports to club status, and to add two new varsity teams that provide significant participation opportunities for women. As part of the initiative, Brown also transitioned three men’s varsity sports to club status. The court’s approval of the settlement, in which the University agreed to return women’s equestrian and women’s fencing to varsity status, now sets aside the plaintiffs’ legal challenge to the changes to Brown’s sports program.

"We are very pleased with the settlement,” Paxson said in September, when it was proposed to the court. “From the outset of this initiative, Brown’s efforts have been about one thing — increasing opportunities for our student-athletes to be part of a competitive program. The Cohen agreement served an important purpose when it was signed 22 years ago, but Brown’s commitment to women athletes transcends the agreement. We can provide excellent athletics opportunities for women and men, be a leader in upholding Title IX and have a competitive varsity program. And we will.”

The terms of the settlement are available in full online. Additional details on Cohen vs. Brown and the settlement are available in Brown’s announcement of the proposed settlement agreement on Sept. 17, 2020.

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