Contact: Anthony Rothert, Legal Director

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ACLU Challenges Failure of Missouri State University to Provide Athletic Opportunities to Women

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI, April 11, 2006 - The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit today on behalf of women tennis players at Missouri State University over the University’s elimination of the women’s team.

At its December 16, 2005, meeting, the University’s Board of Governors decided to eliminate the successful women’s tennis team. The ACLU of Eastern Missouri made several attempts to convey to the University that its decision violated Title IX, the federal law that requires schools receiving federal financial assistance to structure their intercollegiate athletic programs in a way that is fair to women.

“Title IX requires that the participation rate of women in the athletic program be substantially proportionate to their enrollment rate,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Women make up 56 percent of the student body at Missouri State but are allowed only 45 percent of the opportunities to participate in intercollegiate sports.”

The decision to discontinue the women’s tennis team adds to the University’s history of noncompliance with federal law, according to Rothert.

The tennis team’s members were surprised by the University’s decision.

“I do not understand why they cut the program,” said Maja Stanojevic, a junior majoring in cellular and molecular biology and co-captain of the tennis team. “We were a really successful team. We won titles, and we did well every year.”

“Title IX is an important part of America’s civil rights framework,” said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “It has almost single-handedly led to a renaissance in women's athletics and an increase in all of the added benefits that come with playing sports in school.”

“I wanted playing tennis competitively to be a part of my college experience,” said Stanojevic. “I could have gone to many different universities to play tennis, but I selected Missouri State. I kept up my end of the bargain by training and competing as hard as possible for our team’s success. I met my responsibility by being a good student and giving back to the Springfield community. I feel let down.”

The suit was filed in Federal District Court of the Western District of Missouri. It is a class action suit on behalf of the tennis players and similarly situated women at the University. The plaintiffs seek an injunction requiring the University to restore the women’s tennis team.