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Friday, December 15, 2006

Women Athletes Win 1st Round vs. U.C.

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal judge has certified a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit brought by female student-athletes who claim the University of Cincinnati treats them like second-class citizens and budgets paltry resources for their sport.

The decision earlier this week by U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Rose of Dayton is a legal setback for the 35,000-student state school, and means the Title IX litigation covers 40 women on the rowing team. They contend they were denied access to training facilities, coaches, recruiters, practice times, locker rooms, publicity, equipment and supplies. They complained they haven't been given team uniforms to wear for practices and contests.

However, in his Dec. 11 ruling, the judge held off creating a class that applied to all present, prospective and future participants in women's athletics programs. He said a victory by the rowing team might backfire -- the limited amount of resources they now receive could be taken away and given to other women's sports to make things equal with the men.

''The team apparently has never had enough rowing machines to work out as a team. It has never had a meeting room large enough to allow the members to meet together as a team,'' Rose said, adding that the women sleep four to a room and two to a bed and stay in budget motels when they travel to rowing meets. ''The complaint asserts that the women's rowing team exemplifies how female athletes as a whole are treated unfairly when the benefits and services provided to male athletes are compared to the benefits and services provided to female athletes. It claims no men's team is treated so poorly."

U.C. was also accused to shortchanging its female athletes on sports scholarships. The 227 women who play sports at the NCAA Division 1 school make up 45.3% of its athletes but receive only 41.1% of scholarship money. Men, on the other hand, are 54.&% of the athletes and get 58.9 of the scholarships. That proportionality difference is likely to become an important issue in the case. (Southern District of Ohio, 1:05-cv-764.) U.C.'s lawyer is Rosemary Doreen Canton of Cincinnati, the women are represented by Lisa Talmadge Meeks and Robert B. Newman, also of Cincinnati.

Rose said he wanted know more about any injuries the women rowers may have sustained.

"While the court is unaware what members of the team suffered injuries from an alleged auto accident resulting from the failure of the university to provide transportation, none of the members had access to university transportation," he said. "Should some of the individual plaintiffs have unique injuries stemming from the auto accident, or the abscence of a trainer, the court will exercise its discretion to adjust the class and possiblty bifurcate claims."

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