Female Athletes Sue University of Oregon for ‘Hurtful, Outrageous Sex Discrimination’

“The history of Title IX has shown: If women want equality, they need to fight for it. So that’s what the women at Oregon are doing.”

Track athletes from the University of Oregon win the Women’s Distance Medley on March 9, 2018 in College Station, Texas. (Doug Stroud / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

On Dec. 1, 32 current and former female student athletes at the University of Oregon filed a Title IX class-action lawsuit, alleging sex discrimination in athletic participation opportunities, financial aid, benefits and publicity, including support for opportunities to receive payments for use of their names, images and likenesses, known as NILs

Building on a recent groundbreaking federal court decision, the student athletes are suing for monetary damages connected to these discriminatory practices. The lawsuit is the first ever to seek damages connected to NIL discrimination against women.

“Title IX has been the law for more than 50 years. Oregon needs to comply with it, now,” said Arthur Bryant of the law firm Bailey & Glasser, which represents the plaintiffs. “The history of Title IX has shown: If women want equality, they need to fight for it. So that’s what the women at Oregon are doing.”

I love the University of Oregon, but this hurtful, outrageous sex discrimination has to stop.

Ashley Schroeder, lead plaintiff

The complaint alleges that the school treats its male student-athletes “shockingly better” than its female student-athletes. For example, the 85 football players enjoy “palatial locker rooms, their own theatre with seats upholstered in Ferrari leather, nearly-unlimited publicity … and myriad other forms of support that one can hardly imagine,” according to the complaint. Meanwhile, University of Oregon does not provide the women’s varsity beach volleyball team with any practice or competitive facilities, forcing female athletes to practice and compete at a public park that lacks stands for spectators, has bathrooms with no doors on the stalls, and is frequently littered with feces and drug paraphernalia.

“Male athletes are treated incredibly better in almost every respect,” said lead plaintiff Ashley Schroeder, captain of the women’s varsity beach volleyball team. “This week, we could not practice because, sadly and disturbingly, someone died near the public courts we have to use in Amazon Park. We cannot use the restrooms there because they’re not safe and, sometimes, people are in the stalls using drugs. But the men’s teams have full scholarships, multi-million-dollar budgets, and professional-level, state-of-the-art facilities. I love the University of Oregon, but this hurtful, outrageous sex discrimination has to stop.”

The Oregon athletic department offers 20 varsity sports and generated more than $153.5 million in annual revenue in fiscal year 2022, yet they provided no athletic scholarship funding to the varsity women’s beach volleyball team, according to an extensive report in The Oregonian. No other public university among Power Five conferences—the five most prominent and highest-earning athletic conferences in college football—has a varsity team with no athletic scholarships.

“We love this school, but, in addition to treating its women athletes unfairly, it is also depriving us and other women of equal opportunities to participate,” said plaintiff Elise Haverland, captain of the women’s club rowing team, which does not have varsity status or scholarships. “Oregon’s own numbers show it needs to add at least 94 varsity women athletes to reach proportionality. That includes a women’s rowing team and more.” 

According to the university’s Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act figures, women are over 55 percent of the undergraduate student body and 49 percent of the student-athletes, but Oregon spends only 25 percent of its athletics dollars and 15 percent of its recruiting dollars on them. To make up for the unequal athletic aid it offered its female student-athletes from 2017-18 through 2021-22—the past five years for which data is publicly available—Oregon would have to pay more than $4.5 million in damages to its female athletes, the suit states.

These young women did not go to school imagining they would sue their university, but they are committed to fighting for what is right.

Lori Bullock, co-counsel

The complaint alleges inequalities in gear and equipment. Oregon’s football players receive new gear four to six times each season, including six unique football helmets for their 12 regular-season games, six jerseys, six pairs of pants, multiple pairs of cleats and socks, four pairs of sweatsuits, pads and arm sleeves, according to the suit. The football equipment room includes an “athlete fitting room” where each player has a personal appointment during the preseason to be measured and sized for shoes, pants, jerseys, pads and all other equipment. 

Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s beach volleyball team is provided all their athletic gear once at the beginning of the school year and does not receive new or additional gear throughout the season, the suit claims. The gear given at the beginning of the year is often used and does not fit because Oregon makes no effort to ensure that the gear is obtained in the players’ sizes, the suit claims.

Athletes experience differences in hotel accommodations as well. According to the complaint, the women’s beach volleyball team does not have the option to stay in hotel rooms before home games as does the football team, and even for many of their away tournaments, female athletes have been hosted by players’ families, often sleeping in cramped and shared quarters or on air mattresses. If the beach volleyball team members are fortunate enough to receive hotel rooms, they are often required to sleep up to four a room, including with student team managers, and the hotels are low quality or in unsafe areas, state the plaintiffs.

The complaint also alleges that football team members are given so much publicity and university-driven NIL support that three of the team’s players are listed among On3’s NIL 100 list. Conversely, the complaint notes that no Oregon female athlete is listed.

“Oregon’s female student-athletes are given so much less publicity and NIL support that no female student-athlete receives anywhere near the amounts mentioned on that list,” states the complaint.

Due to the damages claims and the inclusion of NIL income inequalities, the case could have significant implications for the finances of college athletics and the future of Title IX.

“We are proud to represent these courageous women who have decided to stand up and fight for the equality Title IX requires and against the sex discrimination that Title IX prohibits,” said co-counsel Lori Bullock. “These young women did not go to school imagining they would sue their university, but they are committed to fighting for what is right.”

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About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Andy Zimbalist is an Economics Professor at Smith College and president of The Drake Group, advancing positive legislative change in college athletics.