WASHINGTON (AP) -- A women's legal organization has filed discrimination complaints against nine universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, alleging the schools have repeatedly failed to provide equal athletic opportunities for female students over several decades.
The Title IX complaints by the Women's Law Project were submitted late Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Education. The group cites data from each of the universities showing significant gaps between enrollment of female students and their participation rates in athletic programs. Disparities at the schools on average ranged between 7 percent and almost 15 percent over the past decade.
The complaints were made against nine of the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System: Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville and Shippensburg.
"Despite the fact that Title IX has obligated them to achieve gender equality, after four decades these schools still are not providing equitable opportunities for young women," said Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women's Law Project, a nonprofit group with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The complaints call on the Pennsylvania system to address the disparities, arguing that "there is no excuse" for gender gaps in athletic participation and that failure to narrow them "sends a message to female athletes that they are not valued as highly as their male counterparts."
Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania system, said Thursday that each of the universities remains committed to providing equal opportunities for female students, including athletics. He pointed in part to "long-term financial challenges" that he says have made gender parity difficult but contended that the schools had made progress.
"All of our universities take their responsibilities under Title IX very seriously," Marshall said.
According to the complaints, many of the universities have had women's rugby club teams for many years that should be elevated to varsity level to help alleviate disparities. In other instances, the complaints allege, universities have failed to offer women's teams in field hockey, volleyball or golf, despite student interest, or didn't provide equitable financial assistance or recruiting support for women's teams.
Collectively, more than 900 athletic opportunities for women were missed over the past decade at the nine universities, the legal organization said.
Title IX, signed into law in 1972, opened doors for girls and women by banning sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports. The U.S. Education Department, which wields the funding power over schools, investigates complaints of alleged violations to ensure compliance.
Once Title IX complaints are accepted for investigation, a federal review generally takes up to six months.
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