Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Ex parte Alabama Department of Youth Services Supreme Court of Alabama (2003)

Custodial violence, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, female minor children in the custody of Alabama’s Department of Youth Service (“DYS”), brought an action against DYS and its executive director, alleging federal claims of sexual harassment and abuse under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (“Title IX”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of DYS employees, and intentional misrepresentation. Defendants’ filed a motion to dismiss the claims based on various arguments for immunity, which the trial court denied. Defendants filed a petition for writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to dismiss the complaint. In ruling on Defendants’ petition, the Supreme Court considered each claim for immunity. First, DYS claimed it was immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment. The Court, however, held that, because Congress enacted Title IX not only pursuant to its Article I powers, but also pursuant to its Fourteenth Amendment, § 5, power, Congress successfully abrogated the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states from suits in federal and state courts for violations of Title IX. Second, the executive director argued he was entitled to federal qualified immunity from the § 1983 claim, since he was a government official. The Court disagreed, citing law holding that there is no state interest in protecting government officials accused of sexually molesting a child. Because the plaintiffs alleged that the executive director failed to protect them from harm even after he received notice of the sexual harassment and abuse, he did not have a clear legal right to dismissal of plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim on the ground of federal qualified immunity. Third, the Court found that, based on the sovereign immunity provision of the Alabama constitution, dismissal of plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his official capacity was proper. However, the Court found that the doctrine of state-agent immunity did not warrant dismissal of plaintiffs’ state law claims against the executive director in his individual capacity.



Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education United States Supreme Court (2005)

Gender discrimination

Mr. Jackson, a teacher and basketball coach, brought suit against the Birmingham Board of Education (“Board”), alleging that the Board retaliated against him because he had complained about sex discrimination in the high school’s athletic program. Specifically, Mr. Jackson complained to his supervisors that the girls’ basketball team was not receiving equal funding and equal access to athletic equipment and facilities. After the Board terminated Mr. Jackson’s coaching duties, he filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. He alleged that the Board violated Title IX by retaliating against him for protesting the discrimination of the girls’ basketball team. The district court dismissed Mr. Jackson’s complaint on the ground Title IX did not cover claims retaliation, and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Unites States Supreme Court reversed, holding: “We conclude that when a funding recipient retaliates against a person because he complains of sex discrimination, this constitutes intentional ‘discrimination’ ‘on the basis of sex,’ in violation of Title IX.” The Court reached this conclusion, in part, because “[r]eporting incidents of discrimination is integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished.” In response to the Board’s claim that it had no notice that Title IX prohibited retaliation, the Supreme Court held that Title IX itself supplied sufficient notice to the Board, as did previous Courts of Appeals decisions that had considered the issue.



N.C. v. P.R. Caldwell Alabama Supreme Court (2011)

Sexual violence and rape, Sexual harassment

N.C., a minor, filed a personal injury action against her physical education teacher, her school principal, and the Tallapoosa County Board of Education. N.C. alleged that, following her 7th grade physical education class, she was pulled into the boys’ locker room and raped by A.H, a 12th grade student who her teacher, Mr. Caldwell, had allegedly appointed as a teacher’s aide. N.C.’s complaint alleged that Mr. Caldwell had actual knowledge that A.H. was sexually harassing students and negligently or wantonly supervised N.C. and the other students in her class. Mr. Caldwell, the principal, and the Board filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that N.C.’s claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. N.C. opposed entry of summary judgment only against Mr. Caldwell. The trial court found that the doctrine of immunity is strong and the Supreme Court “has been particularly reluctant to hold an educator responsible for sexual misconduct by another.” On that ground, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Caldwell on the basis of Stage-agent immunity. On appeal, the court considered an exception to the law of State-agent immunity, which provides that “a State agent shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity . . . when the State acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.” N.C. argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Caldwell acted beyond his authority: (1) when he allegedly failed to properly supervise A.H.; (2) when he allegedly allowed A.H. to act as a teacher’s aide; and (3) when he ignored and failed to report previous claims by other female students. The appellate court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Caldwell actually appointed A.H. as a student aide, and, if he did, whether he acted beyond his authority in doing so. The court also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Caldwell was actually aware that A.H. was sexually harassing other female students and, if he was, whether he failed to respond to the allegations. Thus, the appellate court concluded that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment for Mr. Caldwell.


Strickland v. Prime Care of Dothan United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division (2000)

Gender discrimination, Employment discrimination

Ms. Strickland sued her former employer, Prime Care of Dothan, on the theory Prime Care terminated her employment as a medical assistant because of her pregnancy. Prime Care filed a motion for summary judgment on the sole issue of whether Ms. Strickland had sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact on the question of pretext. In order to rebut the inference of discrimination, Prime Care was required to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its decision to terminate Ms. Strickland. To this end, Prime Care asserted that it based its termination decision on violation of work rules, including that Ms. Strickland was rude and/or unprofessional on several occasions, was frequently tardy, and failed to return to work after attending a doctor’s visit. Because, if true, the reasons asserted by Prime Care were nondiscriminatory, the burden shifted back to Ms. Strickland to show that the proffered reasons were really pretext for unlawful discrimination. Ms. Strickland achieved this by showing her conduct did not violate Prime Care’s established policies, and presenting circumstantial evidence that, if true, demonstrated her supervisor harbored a discriminatory animus toward unmarried pregnant women. Prime Care also argued that even if it did discriminate against unmarried, pregnant women, such discrimination did not violate Title VII because the differential treatment was not based on sex. Rather, Prime Care claimed such a policy was neutral toward women, since women were both members of the group of married pregnant women and unmarried pregnant women. The court held that Congress and the Supreme Court had expressly rejected this argument, finding that the terms “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” include because of or on the basis of pregnancy. Thus, an employer violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act when it premises an employment decision, in whole or in part, on the fact that one of its female employees or applicants was pregnant out of wedlock. For these reasons, the court denied Prime Care’s motion for summary judgment.


Williams v. State Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals (1986)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

A jury found Mr. Williams guilty of burglary and sodomy in the first degree. On appeal, Mr. Williams argued, among other things, that Alabama’s forcible sodomy statute was unconstitutional because it excluded a married person from liability. In other words, under the statute, a married person could not be convicted of forcibly sodomizing his or her spouse in Alabama. The appellate court held that the statute, on its face, discriminates between married and unmarried persons, and thus looked to see whether there was, “as a minimum, some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment accorded married and unmarried persons under the statute.” The court considered several traditional rationales for the marital exception. First, the court considered the implied consent theory – i.e., when a women makes her marriage vows, she impliedly consents to sexual intercourse with her husband during the marriage. The court rejected this rationale, finding that a “married person has the same right to control his or her body as does an unmarried person.” Because “any implied consent notion would give one spouse control over the other spouse’s bodily integrity,” it was not a rationale basis for the marital exemption. Second, the court rejected the proposed justification for the marital exemption that it protected against governmental invasion into marital privacy. The court found that marital privacy was not designed as a shield to protect against violent sexual assaults. Third, the court found untenable the argument that elimination of the marital exemption for forcible sodomy would disrupt marriages because it would discourage reconciliation: “When a marriage relationship has deteriorated to the point of forcible and unwanted sexual contact, reconciliation seems highly unlikely. Fourth, the court found problems with proof did not provide a rationale basis for the marital exemption because the evidentiary problems concerning one spouse’s lack of consent to an act of sodomy would be no more difficult than proving lack of consent by a victim involved in a non-marital relationship. Fifth, and finally, the court rejected the argument that the assault statutes provided alternative remedies available to a victim of forcible sodomy by a spouse, finding the vast differences in punishment disproved the alternative remedy theory. The court concluded that there can be no justification for forcible sodomy upon one’s spouse, and a rule that protected unmarried persons from forcible sodomy but not married persons could not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Therefore, the court severed and removed from the statute the marital exemption for the offense of forcible sodomy.