Appeals court agrees that St. Cloud State University violated Title IX

A person wearing a graduation cap and gown while walking on campus.
Graduates walk with their families near Atwood Memorial Center during St. Cloud State University's spring semester commencement ceremonies in St. Cloud, Minn. A U.S. appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that St. Cloud State University violated Title IX by not providing equal opportunities for female athletes.
Dave Schwarz | The St. Cloud Times via AP 2020

A U.S. appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that St. Cloud State University violated Title IX by not providing equal opportunities for female athletes.

However, the court also sent part of the case back to a lower court for further review, leaving some confusion over its implications.

In 2016, when in the midst of a budget crisis, St. Cloud State University shut down six of its sports teams, including women's tennis and Nordic skiing. 

Ten female athletes sued the university, alleging gender discrimination under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that requires equity in public education, including athletics. They argued that the university had continually under-resourced women’s sports, including providing lesser practice facilities.

In 2019, a U.S. district court judge ruled in their favor, and ordered St. Cloud State to take immediate steps to provide equitable opportunities for female athletes. The university appealed.

In the ruling filed Thursday, a U.S. appeals court agreed that the university failed to comply with Title IX requirements to provide equal opportunities for athletic participation.

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But it also said the district court erred when it required St. Cloud State to provide equal benefits among its three tiers of sports, rather than its athletic program as a whole. The appeals court returned that part of the case back to the lower court judge for further review. 

It also overruled a decision requiring the university to pay legal fees, which totaled about $1.2 million.

Attorney Don Mark, who represents the athletes, said that on balance, they're “delighted” with the ruling.

"It confirms what we believed all along, and that is that St. Cloud State has not been in compliance with Title IX from the very beginning of the act,” he said. 

Most of the athletes who filed the lawsuit are either in graduate school or working and have moved on with their lives, Mark said.

“They didn't benefit while they were at St. Cloud State,” he said. “Hopefully, their efforts will be some benefit to those that follow.”

In a statement, the university said it’s pleased that the court “acknowledged our efforts to provide equitable treatment and benefits across the athletic programs.” 

The university said it’s committed to providing equitable athletic opportunities for all students.

In 2019, St. Cloud State cut its football program, as well as men’s and women’s golf, to ease budget pressures and help comply with Title IX. It also added men’s soccer.