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NCAA track athletes sue school for discrimination, firing coach in retaliation

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Athletes from the University of Central Oklahoma women’s track and field team have filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging a laundry list of Title IX violations.

The women’s track and field and cross country teams at the NCAA Division II school have been deprived of equal treatment and benefits, the 38-page lawsuit claims.

Members of the teams are not provided locker rooms or competitive facilities and are required to practice at a local middle school, according to the lawsuit. Inadequate apparel, inferior transportation, inferior game and practice schedules in relation to the men’s teams also are listed among the allegations.

After athletes complained about the conditions for their teams, head coach Martha Brennan was fired — a move the lawsuit claims came in retaliation.

The firing was intended to have a “chilling effect” on team members, “all of whom would be deterred from pursuing their rights under Title IX,” the lawsuit says. “That is precisely the effect it had.”

Arthur H. Bryant, one of the lawyers representing the women, said in a news release that the athletes first brought the issues to the university’s attention in May.

“UCO’s second-class treatment of its female student-athletes and retaliation against them for seeking equal treatment are both blatant violations of Title IX, “ Bryant said.

Title IX dictates that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Additionally, retaliation against those who complain about sex discrimination is not allowed.

“It is hard to imagine a clearer case of unequal treatment,” Bryant said. “UCO’s retaliation against the women for challenging its flagrant sex discrimination shows how bad things are. Why is UCO so opposed to equality?”

The lawsuit, which was served to the school Tuesday, also outlines that the school has not been following the guidelines of Title IX when it comes to student-athlete participation.

During the 2020-21 school year, UCO’s male athletic teams were composed of 213 student athletes while the women’s teams were made up of 186 female student athletes, which accounted for 46.62 percent of varsity athletics, according to the lawsuit.

In comparison, women accounted for 62.83 percent of the undergraduate enrollment that year. Under Title IX, those numbers must be equal.

“What we are seeking is what the law requires: equal treatment and freedom from retaliation,” said Tatum Robertson, a senior on the women’s track and field teams who has finished in the top 25 in the conference for the past two years. “UCO should have responded to our request by agreeing to treat women equally, not by firing our coach. Title IX has been the law for 50 years now. UCO needs to comply with it and start treating all female and male student-athletes equally.”