Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Title IX triumphs at the buzzer

Common sense won 5-4 on Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court decided in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education that school districts can't retaliate against workers who complain that their employers are violating Title IX. The 1972 law requires educational institutions that receive federal funds to provide equal athletic opportunities for male and female students, and it has been the focus of complex and sometimes contradictory judicial opinions in the last couple of decades.

The Court's opinion, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, came almost four years after Ensley High School teacher Roderick Jackson was fired as girls' basketball coach after he complained that his team's practice facilities were inferior to those of the boys' team. The majority decided that Jackson could sue for retaliation under Title IX because "[r]eporting incidents of discrimination is integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished."

The majority's opinion seems imminently reasonable, but the justices nonetheless were closely divided. Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent relied on a slippery-slope warning that the Court's ruling would allow courts to "expand liability as they, rather than Congress, see fit." That assertion may sound good on paper, but it loses a good bit of weight once you learn that Title IX's author, former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., praised the Court's decision as "a strong message to these school boards that they must respond when their coaches say there is discrimination."

The case now returns to a lower court for trial, where Jackson will get a chance to prove his case. But even if the school board eventually wins, the coach's lawsuit has been beneficial in one way: Ensley's female basketball players now get to practice in the same gym as their male counterparts. Chalk up another 3-pointer for equal opportunity.


Blogger Susan of LocalTint said...

Why is it that an inordinate number of Supreme Court cases that merely request an affirmation of fairness and common sense originate in Alabama (successful or not)? And why is the state's AG always on the opposing side?

7:08 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I wish I knew the answer to those questions.

If Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett troubled you, it may make you feel a little better to know that the Court ruled last year in Tennessee v. Lane that states can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they don't provide adequate handicapped access to courthouses. The decision's application is very narrow, but it still seems better than nothing.

8:55 PM  

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