Two students sue UK, say university lacks enough womens varsity sports

Lisa Niblock, a UK senior and plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, September 25, 2019, outside the Fayette County District courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky. A lawsuit was filed at Lexington’s federal courthouse alleging that UK officials are discriminating against female athletes by refusing to create varsity sports opportunities. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Jacob Eads

Two women have filed a federal suit against UK accusing the university of violating federal law by refusing to create enough opportunities for women to play varsity sports.

The lawsuit states that UK is violating Title IX—a federal law which mandates that men and women have equitable opportunities to play in sports—and that the university needs to add 183 women athletes to meet federal compliance.

Elizabeth Niblock and Meredith Newman, both UK students, are listed as plaintiffs in the case.

“When we look at Kentucky’s numbers they’re more than flip flopped the wrong way,” said Jill Zwagerman, the attorney representing Niblock and Newman. “There are 183 women out of compliance with Title IX. That’s a field hockey team. That’s a lacrosse team. That’s a triathlon team. That’s an equestrian team. That’s a rowing team.”

In their suit, the plaintiffs accuse university officials and the Board of Trustees of declining to add varsity women’s lacrosse, field hockey and triathlon, when athletes on those respective club teams approached UK officials.

“The fact that it’s the 21st century and there’s still an issue toward gender equality among sports baffles me,” said Niblock. “I’m very very grateful for my experience here at the University of Kentucky however I cannot help but think how enriched my experience would’ve been if I had the privilege of playing lacrosse at this collegiate level.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Mitch Barnhart, UK’s Athletics Director, refused to add female varsity sports despite a 2004 internal UK study which recommended that the university add more female athletes.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said in a statement that the university fully complies with Title IX.

“As a campus community, we care deeply about these issues,” Blanton said on behalf of UK. “With 22 sports, UK has the broadest based athletics program in the Southeastern Conference. Based on our surveys of our students, the current sports offerings fully accommodate the interests and abilities of our undergraduate students.”

Zwagerman said that this lawsuit was a “last resort” for the students she’s representing. 

“The only choice UK left them was to either shrivel up in the corner or fight,” said Zwagerman. “They chose to fight. And the only mechanism they have to fight is to file this suit.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.