Title IX Whistle-Blowing Is Protected

By Pittman, Andrew T. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Title IX Whistle-Blowing Is Protected


Pittman, Andrew T., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Adam Epstein

Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education

United States Supreme Court

125 S.Ct. 1497

March 29, 2005

Roderick Jackson, a physical education teacher, had been an employee of the Birmingham school district for over 10 years. His duties included coaching the girls' basketball team. After being transferred to Ensley High School in August 1999, Jackson complained that his team was denied equal access to sports facilities and equipment and that he was even denied a key to the gymnasium. As a result of his complaints, Jackson claimed he received negative work evaluations and was relieved of his coaching duties in May 2001. Even though Jackson continued to be a tenured physical education teacher, he claimed that his coaching duties were terminated because of his complaints of alleged gender-discrimination. Accordingly, Jackson filed a lawsuit grounded in the provisions of Title IX.

The District Court

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed Jackson's complaint entirely, noting that Title IX does not encompass a cause of action for retaliation. The court reasoned that Jackson had no standing (i.e., the right to bring a suit) under Title IX because he was not the victim of the alleged gender discrimination. The defendant school board argued that Title IX did not provide a remedy for retaliation, whereas the more appropriate course would have been to complain under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Jackson's attorneys, however, argued that even though the language of Title IX did not expressly mention retaliation remedies under the statute, there was a growing trend by courts to recognize them. The court stated that if the Ensley High School girls' basketball team was denied equal opportunities under Title IX, it was they (and not Jackson) who were being denied the benefits of Title IX and therefore should be the ones to bring the claim. The court relied heavily on Holt v. Lewis (1995) as precedent.

The Court of Appeals

Jackson appealed the decision and maintained that the Birmingham Board of Education had retaliated against him by removing him from his coaching position, which he believed violated Title IX. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court. This court looked at whether or not Title IX implies a private right of action in favor of individuals who, although not themselves victims of gender discrimination, suffer retaliation because they have complained about sex discrimination suffered by others. Unfortunately for Jackson, this court could find no such congressional intent in Title IX, and it affirmed the dismissal. This court relied heavily on Alexander v. Sandoval (2001), which negatively resolved the issue of "private right of action" under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Since Title IX uses nearly identical language as Title VI (essentially the only difference is the use of the word "sex" instead of "race, color, or national origin"), this court opined that a private right of action did not exist in Title IX either. Even if Title IX did imply such rights, the court felt that Jackson was plainly not within the class of persons meant to be protected under Title IX.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals (and the District Court) decision and held that when a person is retaliated against because they complain of sex discrimination, this constitutes intentional discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. The Supreme Court's majority (O'Connor, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) relied heavily on four cases to justify its opinion in the matter. All of these cases involved Title IX, and all of them broadly interpreted the statute to include private rights of action involving intentional sex discrimination. Such cases over time, the court said, have better refined the scope of Title IX by holding that Title IX (1) implies a private right of action to enforce its prohibition on intentional sex discrimination, (2) authorizes private parties to seek monetary damages for such discrimination, and (3) allows a right (cause) of action for deliberate indifference to claims of sexual harassment between students and by teachers. …

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