In Case of a Male Coach, Court Adds Teeth to Gender-Bias Law ; High Court Rules That Title IX, Which Shields Girls' Teams from Discrimination, Also Protects Whistleblowers from Retaliation

Article excerpt

A man who lost his coaching job after complaining that his girls' high school basketball team was being treated like second-class citizens may claim the protections of a 1972 gender-bias law to get his job back.

Coach Roderick Jackson sued the Birmingham, Ala., Board of Education, saying the school district had violated Title IX in taking retaliatory action against him. A federal judge and federal appeals court panel threw out the suit.

But Tuesday the US Supreme Court reinstated his lawsuit, saying his firing amounts to a form of gender discrimination under Title IX - even though Coach Jackson is a man and was not a member of the girls' team.

"Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination," writes Justice Sandra Day O'Connor for the majority.

Title IX is the groundbreaking civil rights law passed 33 years ago to ensure that girls and women are allowed to fully participate in government-funded educational programs, including school sports.

Tuesday's 5-to-4 ruling is important because it will make it easier to fight gender bias by empowering coaches, friends, and others (male and female) familiar with ongoing discrimination to file suit, if they encounter retaliation.

In adopting a broad reading of Title IX the high court is putting school districts nationwide on notice that gender discrimination litigation is not restricted to only direct victims of sex-based bias.

At the center of the case was whether the alleged retaliation experienced by a male coach for complaining about unequal treatment of his female athletes was itself a form of gender bias. Women's- rights advocates argued that it was, and a majority of justices agreed.

"The statute is broadly worded; it does not require that the victim of the retaliation must also be the victim of the discrimination that is the subject of the original complaint," Justice O'Connor writes. …