UConn to Keep Women's Rowing Team After Federal Gender Equity Lawsuit Settled

The University of Connecticut will continue to have a women's rowing program now that it has settled a federal lawsuit.

UConn has agreed to settle in a federal gender equity lawsuit filed against the school by 12 rowers. As part of the settlement, the school will continue to have a women's rowing team until at least 2026.

The lawsuit was filed after the school announced it would be cutting the women's rowing team for budgetary reasons, but not the men's team.

After U.S. District Judge Stephen Underhill ruled in May that the suspension could be a violation of Title IX, UConn announced that it would reverse its decision, which led to the settlement that was agreed to on Wednesday.

"The university is pleased we were able to resolve this litigation and arrive at a settlement," said UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz in a statement. "Our focus is on supporting this program and moving it forward."

Title IX is the federal law that guarantees that all aspects of education, including sports, be equally accessible to female students. In order to prevent a situation such as the rowing lawsuit to happen again, UConn will hire two independent Title IX monitors. These monitors will ensure that the institution upholds its commitment to equality across the entire school.

"That's bigger than just the rowing team," said plaintiff attorney Felice Duffy. "That's going to help all the athletic teams at UConn."

Women's Club Fours
The University of Connecticut has agreed to a settlement stemming from a lawsuit from 12 female rowers after a judge ruled that pulling the women's rowing program but not the men's team could be a Title IX violation. Above, a member of UConn rival Boston College competes in the Women's Club Fours division of the Head of the Charles Regatta on October 23 in Boston. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The school agreed in the settlement Wednesday to a number of improvements for the program, including renovating the team's boathouse and increasing the number of scholarships in the program from 14 to 20. The school also agreed to hire three full-time assistant coaches and increase the recruiting budget from $7,000 to $35,000 a year.

The school had planned to eliminate women's rowing, men's swimming and diving, men's cross-country and men's tennis as part of a plan to reduce a $42 million athletic deficit by about $10 million a year, cutting the need for a subsidy to the athletic department by 25% over three years.

At the time, the school said it had considered the civil rights implications before making the decision.

But Underhill found compelling evidence that UConn has been inflating the numbers of participants in its rowing and other women's programs to make it appear it was complying with federal law. He also wrote that evidence showed UConn experienced participation gaps each year for the past 13 years.

Duffy said she hopes other schools will look at this case and give their female athletes real opportunities.

Maggie Mlynek, one of the rowers who brought the lawsuit and has since graduated, said she believes the case will go a long way toward solidifying the school's reputation as a great spot for female athletes and not just in basketball.

"At a time that we really didn't think there was going to be a future, now we have everything a rowing team could ever want or need to succeed," she said.

UConn rowing coach Jennifer Sanford said she is proud of Mlynek and the other 11 rowers who filed the lawsuit, believing the case was always about more than just their team.

"They saw value in fighting for the reinstatement of our program, but also saw beyond that, hoping that our case would protect other rowing teams across the country from being cut in the future," she said. "I'm pleased that the University has made the commitment to fully support our program and look forward to moving ahead, building the program with our current student-athletes and enthusiastic recruits who will represent the University of Connecticut with pride."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

UConn Campus
The University of Connecticut has agreed to a settlement related to a federal gender equity lawsuit regarding the proposed disbandment of the women's rowing team. Above, UConn's main campus in Storrs, Connecticut. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images