St. Cloud State University must pay $1.2 million in legal fees to attorneys representing former female student-athletes who won a Title IX case against the school, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim also directed St. Cloud State's lawyers to appear in court Feb. 25 for a hearing on contentions that they have failed to fix inequities between men's and women's athletics.
Both the order for fees and the upcoming hearing arise from a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the university by 10 recent members of the women's tennis and Nordic ski teams alleging violations of Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law requiring gender equity in public education, including athletics.
Last August, Tunheim sided with the plaintiffs, finding that the university was out of compliance with the law and ordering St. Cloud State to "take immediate steps to provide its female students with an equitable opportunity to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics."
Having prevailed in the lawsuit, lawyers for the women sought reimbursement of attorneys' fees. Tunheim granted nearly all their requests for reimbursement of fees and costs.
In a statement Friday, university officials said they had not yet determined whether they would appeal the judge's latest award.
And the university provided no indication how it would pay that bill. The athletic department already is struggling financially with a $1.6 million deficit, administrators have said.
In his order from last summer, Tunheim wrote that the difficulty caused by a shrinking budget doesn't diminish the need to meet gender equity requirements.
St. Cloud State last summer announced that it planned to eliminate football and the golf programs in budgetary moves. At the time, the lawyer for the women, Donald Chance Mark Jr., called elimination of the sports "deplorable" and said that universities don't gain by cutting sports.
"When you cut sports, you're also cutting revenue. … If you add a sport, you're not only adding equality, you're adding income," he said.
Mark will have a chance to make that argument to Tunheim next month. The plaintiffs now want Tunheim to find the university in contempt of his previous order to fix inequities.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson