Female Athletes Participating in Sports - Title IX Violations Case

Kentucky Court excludes testimony of Gender Equity Expert on Title IX Violations Case 

Image: Female Athletes Participating in Sports - Title IX Violations Case

Title IX violations expert testimony

Plaintiffs, Elizabeth Niblock and Meredith Newman filed this class action complaint against the University of Kentucky Director of Athletics, Mitch Barnhart, President, Eli Capilouto and Board of Trustees (collectively “UK”) alleging practices violative of the Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, an act prohibiting sex-based discrimination of any form in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. UK has refused to add any female sports to help bridge the participation gap between male and female student athletes. Due to lack of women’s opportunities, female student athletes are being deprived of the same scholarship opportunities as male student athletes. In other words UK is promoting men’s sports at the expense and detriment to women’s sports.  

Gender Equity Expert

Plaintiffs have offered the testimony of expert, Donna Lopiano, the president of Sports Management Resources, LLC, her own, single-member LLC through which she runs a consulting practice “that focuses on helping educational institutions and sport organizations solve sports program integrity, equity, growth, and management challenges.” Donna Lopiano has opined that UK was not accommodating the interests and abilities of female students under Prongs One, Two, or Three of Title IX’s participation options which emphasize on the number of male and female student-athletes being proportional to the overall male and female student enrolment in the institution, on the school in question demonstrating a history and continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for female students to align with their interests and on schools with disproportionate athletics programs not currently expanding, to comply with Title IX by demonstrating that their existing program adequately accommodates the interests of female students. Lopiano further testified that UK failed to regularly and properly assess the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex for the purpose of identifying unmet interests and abilities.  

Lopiano also concluded that UK had only considered adding the financially least expensive and alumni/audience appealing women’s sports, women’s sports that have never appeared on UK interest and ability surveys. 

Lopiano stated that UK would be unable to count its current UK sideline cheerleading squad and the dance team as varsity sports and participants as varsity athletes, whether or not coaches, scholarships or other services were being provided to these programs and also added that UK’s proposed plan to add a women’s Stunt and women’s junior varsity soccer team did not achieve Prong One gender equity. UK demanded exclusion of the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Donna Lopiano. 

Discussion by the Court 

Defendant contended that all of Lopiano’s proposed opinions should be excluded considering they constitute legal conclusions or are otherwise inadmissible for various reasons such as lack of required qualifications or lack of a reliable basis. 

The Court admitted the Defendant’s argument that Lopiano crossed the line into impermissibility when Lopiano opined about UK’s current compliance with Title IX. Plaintiff replied that Lopiano merely wanted to establish industry standards for compliance yet in her report Lopiano “compares what UK has done on all elements—compares it to what Title IX requires” and stated that her report was “all about the University of Kentucky’s fact situation compared to the Title IX standards.” Moreover, Lopiano’s expert report does not consist of opinions about other universities’ compliance. The Court held that Lopiano’s opinions amounted to legal conclusions. 

Defendant also alleged that Lopiano’s opinions on participation derived from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (“EADA”) survey analysis are premised on the cursory analysis performed by Lopiano and hence are unreliable, irrelevant, and unhelpful to the trier of fact. Lopiano testified that she compared a University’s EADA submissions with website participant counting data and actual NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) squad lists instead of performing the comparison and using only publicly available EADA data to form the basis of some of her conclusions. 

The Court also found that Lopiano ceased to examine the specifics of UK’s Cheer or Dance teams in performing her analysis and though Plaintiff contends this argument should go to the weight of Lopiano’s testimony instead of its admissibility, the Court held that whether certain teams should be counted for the purposes of Title IX compliance fell under its domain instead of Lopiano’s and henceforth it could not be reasonably concluded if Lopiano’s testimony was relevant or helpful to the trier of fact. 

When the Defendant testified that Lopiano’s opinions regarding the UK’s athletic interest surveys should be excluded considering she was unqualified to offer such opinions, the Court observed that despite Lopiano’s extensive history and involvement in women’s sports and the area of Title IX, she was not a survey design expert and by her own admission had relied on another survey design expert’s work to form her own conclusions and held that her opinions regarding athletic interest surveys were beyond her area of expertise. 

Since the proceedings are ongoing, the outcome of the case remains to be seen. 


The Court excluded the opinions and testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Donna Lopiano because they consisted of legal conclusions, lacked a reliable basis and Lopiano opined on topics beyond her area of expertise. The outcome of the case is yet to be decided since the issued involved in the case still remain unresolved. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Legal Conclusions: The Court found that Lopiano compared the University of Kentucky’s fact situation with the standards and requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 without following it up with reports of other universities’ compliance as was required for objective assessment. The Court, henceforth, concluded that the testimony of Lopiano amounted to legal conclusions in this case. 
  1. Reliability: The Court held that Lopiano’s conclusions lacked a reliable premise on account of being based on publicly available Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (“EADA”) data instead of her own comparisons or specifics of UK’s Cheer or Dance teams not being adequately examined by her in performing her analysis. 
  1. Qualification: Though recognized as one of the foremost national experts on gender equity in sport, Lopiano, unfortunately, by her own admission is not a survey design expert. Usually the Court deems an expert qualified to opine if the topic is sufficiently within the confines of the expert’s scope of expertise but athletic interest surveys were not within the confines of Lopiano’s expertise.