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Law School Case Brief

Cohen v. Brown Univ. - 101 F.3d 155 (1st Cir. 1996)


Title IX of the Education Code, 20 U.S.C.S. §§ 1681-1688, provides 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.


In response to a university-wide cost-cutting directive, Brown University (Brown) demoted its women’s gymnastics and volleyball teams from university-funded varsity status to donor-funded varsity status. Contemporaneously, Brown demoted two men’s teams, water polo and golf, from university-funded to donor-funded varsity status. As a consequence of these demotions, all four teams lost not only their university funding, but most of the support and privileges that accompany university-funded varsity status at Brown. Plaintiff Amy Cohen, individually and on behalf of a class, which was comprised of all present, future, and potential Brown women students, who participate, seek to participate, and/or are deterred from participating in intercollegiate athletics funded by Brown, filed the class action lawsuit against defendants Brown, its president, and its athletics director. Plaintiffs contended that what appeared to be the even-handed demotions of two men’s and two women’s teams, in fact, perpetuated Brown’s discriminatory treatment of women in the administration of its intercollegiate athletics program, thus, violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and its implementing regulations. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that Brown's interscholastic athletics program discriminated against women. Consequently, the district court ordered that the women's gymnastics and volleyball teams be reinstated to university-funded varsity status, and prohibiting Brown from eliminating or reducing the status or funding of any existing women's intercollegiate varsity team until the case was resolved on the merits. Brown sought appellate review.


  1. Did Brown’s intercollegiate athletics program violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and its implementing regulations?
  2. Did the district court correctly issue a remedial order against Brown University?


1) Yes. 2) No.


The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs. According to the Court, an institution was violating Title IX if it ineffectively accommodated its students’ interests and abilities in athletics under 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(c)(1) (1995), regardless of its performance with respect to other Title IX areas. Applying the three-prong test of the Policy Interpretation, 44 Fed. Reg. 71,413-71,423 (1979), the Court held that the participation opportunities at Brown were not provided in substantial proportion to enrollment, that Brown did not show either a practice of program expansion or full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities of its women students. Notwithstanding the fact that Brown violated Title IX, the Court held that the district court erred in issuing the remedial order since Brown’s compliance plan reflected a statutorily available option. The Court remanded the case for Brown to submit another compliance plan.

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