Iowa athletics director Gary Barta speaks during a news conference announcing the addition of women’s wrestling as an intercollegiate program at the University of Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Iowa is the first NCAA Division I, Power Five conference institution to offer the sport. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
IOWA CITY — The state agreed Monday to pay from its general fund nearly $400,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by University of Iowa female athletes who contended plans initially announced last year by the UI to cut women’s swimming and diving was a Tile IX gender equity violation.
The State Appeal Board approved the settlement — including $307,545 in attorneys’ fees and $92,444.14 in other litigation costs, including expert witness expenses — after a federal judge in October found the totals “reasonable,” according to court documents.
“Nothing in the parties’ submissions appears to be unreasonable, and the court notes the expert reports were thorough,” U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose wrote in her decision, noting sports and female athletics experts involved in the case — including Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources — cost as much as $500 an hour for testimony, $650 an hour for consultation or $425 an hour for work on a report.
“Dr. Lopiano’s testimony, in particular, was very helpful,” Rose ruled.
Despite UI objections and denials, Lopiano asserted in her expert report that UI Athletics since 2003 had “failed to meet Title IX’s prong one participation requirement — providing male and female athletes with athletics participation opportunities proportional to the percent of males and females in the undergraduate student population.”
After going to great lengths in her report to spell out ways in which institutions could comply with that requirement, Lopiano testified the UI was required to meet Title IX’s actual proportionality standard and failed.
“It is clear that in every year for 18 years, the gaps exceed the allowable prong one variance … ” Lopiano wrote. “I further opine that these gaps are substantially larger than depicted. … The participation data is so questionable that it should not have been relied upon to annually assure the government that it was in compliance with Title IX.”
In addition to expenses, the UI settlement includes a list of conditions:
- UI Athletics must keep women’s swimming and diving for at least seven years, despite the earlier plans to drop it to help save money in light of pandemic budget losses.
- It must add a women’s wrestling team — hiring a coach no later than spring 2022 and recruiting athletes to start competing in the 2023-24 school year. The team should have about 30 wrestlers, allocate the maximum allowed scholarships, and make “reasonable efforts to promote the sport and persuade other Division I schools to add women’s wrestling for a competitive schedule.”
- UI Athletics must maintain a three-year rolling cap of 75 female opportunities on its rowing team — which the lawsuit alleged had been inflated to meet Title IX requirements.
- The UI must appoint an independent Title IX compliance monitor and post Title IX reports on the UI Athletics website annually.
UI Athletics Director Gary Barta, in announcing the new women’s wrestling team, conceded the settlement is behind its timing now, as the department still is fiscally strapped and not in an ideal position to launch a new program.
In talking with The Gazette after the settlement, Lopiano said that, forced or not, “taking this step — being probably one of the most visible wrestling schools in the country — this is really important for them to do it.”
The UI was compelled to settle after an earlier court opinion stated the women were likely to succeed with their lawsuit, Lopiano said. She surmised the university thought, “We don’t want to waste this money in court. We don’t want this reputation.”
“Kudos to the new president for making sure they did the right thing,” Lopiano said of new UI President Barbara Wilson, who started her job as president over the summer.
The settlement shouldn’t end the pressure, though, Lopiano said, noting the program has a lot of work to do to make women’s wrestling successful and to meet federal gender equity mandates.
“Think about the effort he puts into men’s wrestling,” she said of Barta. “If you want your daughter to be treated the same as your son, what does that mean? And that should be a no-brainer for him, in terms of what is the blueprint.”
During Monday’s appeal board discussion, Jeffrey Thompson — solicitor general in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office — said the judgment closes out the dispute.
“The addition of women’s wrestling adds participation opportunities for women at the University of Iowa and, in everybody’s opinion, brought the Title IX calculation back into balance,” he said. The fees paid by the state are “in my opinion, much lower than we would have ended up paying had we continued to litigate the case.”
Other UI settlements
The State Appeal Board also approved spending $250,000 to settle a malpractice case out of the UI Hospitals and Clinics involving a patient who underwent a vein-related surgery on his leg. An order for blood thinners was deleted by mistake, according to the settlement, resulting in clots and additional surgery.
The state board also approved a $75,000 deal with a UI student who injured a knee while walking into Catlett Residence Hall in August 2019. She tripped on a wrinkle in the floor mat, causing her to trip and fall. After the student suffered “significant injuries,” she was “prevented from securing employment and from enjoying those activities typical of college freshmen.”
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