U.S. District Judge George Steeh has ordered Eastern Michigan University to reinstate its women's varsity softball and tennis teams by fall of 2019.
In his February 12th ruling, Steeh ordered EMU to allocate funds for recruitment, scholarships, and support staff equivalent to what it had budgeted for the two teams before they were eliminated.
The judge ruled that EMU has to make preparations for both teams to be ready for competition beginning in fall 2019, including preparing facilities, organizing competition schedules, and completing all hiring and purchasing necessary for a normal 2019-20 season.
EMU cut the two women's teams last March along with the men's swimming and wrestling teams as part of its efforts to address the school's budget problems.
Steeh's ruling is the latest step in a lawsuit filed last June by two female student athletes, one from each of the eliminated teams. They claim EMU discriminates against women in its athletic programs.
"The overall problem is that EMU is allocating athletic opportunities and athletic benefits disproportionately for men," said Lori Bullock, an attorney with Newkirk Zwagerman which represents the women.
"Not every university has women who are brave enought to come forward and challenge the school where they're also trying to receive their education," Bullock said.
Judge Steeh said reinstating the women's teams was called for because cutting them had violated Title IX, the federal law that forbids sex discrimination in educational programs, including sports, that receive federal funds.
Judge Steeh ruled that EMU's elimination of the two women's teams violated Title IX because women are under-represented in the school's varsity sports.
Steeh's decision suggests that EMU will likely have to do more than reinstate the two teams to comply with Title IX.
Steeh wrote, "Indeed, given the current disparity between participation opportunities for men and women at EMU, the reinstatement of the tennis and softball teams represents only one step in the direction of the university's compliance with Title IX."
In a written statement, EMU said that it's committed to meeting its Title IX obligations and that it's studying the ruling to determine next steps in the days ahead.
"Our actions reflect our determined efforts to be fiscally responsible and to realign resources so that we can continue to invest in the academic success, and the support of, our students," the university wrote.