Christina Stylianou, Gregg Clifton Author Law360 Expert Analysis on Esports and Title IX

New York, N.Y. (March 24, 2023) – New York Associate Christina Stylianou and Phoenix Partner Gregg E. Clifton recently authored an Expert Analysis article for Law360, titled "What Esports Ruling Means For College Title IX Compliance," which discusses a recent case in which the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that collegiate esports team are not subject to Title IX scrutiny. The article expands on a recent blog post by Ms. Stylianou and Mr. Clifton titled, "The First Line in the Sand: Florida Federal District Court’s Ruling on Title IX’s Applicability to College eSports."

The authors open the article by explaining that, “The question of whether collegiate esports teams fall under the same legal umbrella as other college athletic programs and are subject to Title IX – the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at federally funded educational institution – is just now beginning to reach the courts for consideration.” Ms. Stylianou and Mr. Clifton go on to describe a case in which the Florida Institute of Technology raised an argument – as part of its position on a related issue – that required the acceptance of esports as an actual sport for purposes of Title IX compliance. The article includes a detailed description of the court’s analysis and ultimate conclusion that esports do not fall under the purview of Title IX.

In addition, Ms. Stylianou and Mr. Clifton provide their perspectives on the court’s holding, explaining, that “the court’s reasoning . . . seems to contradict the OCR’s overarching policy of taking an inclusive approach to the determination.” They further note, “Of greater concern is that esports have long held a reputation for excluding female participants . . . and fostering an environment of sex discrimination and sexual harassment, cyberviolence, and abuse.” The authors point out, however, that because Title IX was implemented “to address sex discrimination and harassment at federally-funded educational institutions, generally” – as opposed to applying only to collegiate sports – the court’s opinion will not have the effect of “remov[ing] college esports from the law’s reach entirely.” Ms. Stylianou and Mr. Clifton ultimately advise that for the purpose of internal Title IX audits, colleges and universities can be guided by the decision, “but should continue to keep an eye on case law that may alter or qualify the determination or may reach entirely different – and controlling – holdings in their respective jurisdictions.”

Ms. Stylianou is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ Entertainment, Media & Sports and Collegiate & Professional Sports Practices. She focuses on advising clients on sports law matters, as well as New York State labor law and construction litigation, architecture and engineering defense, and general liability.

Mr. Clifton is the chair of Lewis Brisbois' Collegiate & Professional Sports Law Practice and a member of the firm's Entertainment, Media & Sports and Labor & Employment Practices. He has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world and has advised numerous professional franchises on a range of labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. Mr. Clifton is also an editor of The Official Review, Lewis Brisbois’ sports law blog.

Read the full article as a PDF here or on Law360 here (subscription may be required).

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