Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

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.



Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School District United States District Court for the Southern District of California (2009)

Gender discrimination

Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against Sweetwater Union School District (the “District”) and several individuals, alleging unequal participation opportunities for females at Castle Park High School (“CPHS”).  Plaintiffs argued that Defendants violated Title IX’s provision that prohibits excluding or discriminating against anyone on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.  The court applied a three-part test to determine whether the District complied with Title IX which included: (1) substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for females; (2) continuing practice of program expansion for females; and (3) the accommodation of females’ interest and abilities.  First, the court held that Defendants failed to provide females with substantially proportionate opportunities to participate in athletics, as the number of female students denied the opportunity to participate could have sustained several viable competitive teams.  Second, the court held that there was no steady increase in female athletic participation.  Even though, as Defendants argued, athletic programs for girls had expanded over the past decade and CPHS had two more teams for girls than for boys, the number of female participants, not the number of teams, determined whether programs had expanded.  Third, the court held that Plaintiffs demonstrated evidence of unmet interest and of the ability of CPHS females to participate in field hockey, tennis, and water polo.  Defendants’ argument that they could not obtain coaches for the teams was not a valid excuse.  The court held that Defendants allowed significant gender-based disparity in violation of Title IX and found for Plaintiffs on their claim of unequal participation opportunities for females.



Ericson v. Syracuse Univ. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (1999)

Sexual harassment

Ms. Ericson and Ms. Kornechuk brought an action against Syracuse University and its employees under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. section 1681 (“Title IX”) and the Violence Against Women Act, 42 U.S.C. section 13981 (“VAWA”). Plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually harassed by their tennis coach, and that the University was aware of the tennis coach’s behavior and conducted a sham investigatory proceeding to conceal the extent of the tennis coach’s misconduct, which had occurred for more than twenty years. Defendants moved to dismiss the claims. They contended that Title IX did not provide a private right of action and the VAWA claim was barred by the statue of limitations. The court held that there was a private right of action under Title IX pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist. (1998). Erickson held that a student who has been sexually harassed by an employee of an institution may bring suit against the institution, under Title IX, for private damages if: (1) the institution has authority to institute corrective measures on its behalf; (2) has actual notice of the behavior; and (3) is deliberately indifferent to its employee’s misconduct. The court found that Plaintiffs’ complaint, on its face, satisfied that standard because it alleged the individuals who investigated the charges against the tennis coach not only had actual notice that the tennis coach had been harassing female student-athletes for twenty years but had also conspired to conduct a sham investigation to conceal the full extent of the coach’s misconduct. The court reasoned that the allegation that the institution knew of the 13 of female-athletes and did not respond adequately was sufficient to state a claim under Title IX. The court also held that the statute of limitations did not bar the Plaintiffs’ claim under the VAWA. VAWA provides a civil cause of action to victims of gender-motivated crimes of violence. It does not contain an express statute of limitations. Accordingly, the court found that it should look to the “most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations.” The court reasoned that Congress’ stated purpose, in enacting this law, was to “protect the civil rights of victims of gender motivated violence by establishing a federal civil rights cause of action.” Because of Congress’ stated purpose, the court found that the cause of action that was most analogous to VAWA was a personal injury claim, and as such, a three-year statute of limitations should apply. Thus, Plaintiffs’ claim under VAWA was not barred by the statue of limitations because the alleged acts of violence occurred within three years from when Plaintiffs filed their complaint.



Doe v. University of Illinois United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (2000)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

Jane Doe attended University High School in Urbana, Illinois. Although University High was a public school, it was affiliated with the University of Illinois, which had the responsibility for overseeing the school’s administration. From January 1993 through May 1994, while a student at University High, Jane was a victim of an ongoing campaign of verbal and physical 13 perpetrated by a group of male students at the school. Doe and her parents complained on numerous occasions to officials of both the high school and the University of Illinois. The school officials suspended a few of the students and transferred one out of Doe’s biology class, but did nothing else to prevent further instances. Some administrators even suggested that it was Doe’s fault. In 1995, Doe and her parents filed suit against the University of Illinois and other individual officials of University High and the University of Illinois, alleging a violation of, among other things, Title IX. The United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois dismissed Doe’s Title IX claim. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit remanded the case, holding that Jane Doe alleged a valid claim under Title IX, and that a Title IX recipient may be held liable for its failure to take prompt, appropriate action in response to student-on-student 13, as was the case here. The court reasoned that Title IX prohibits discriminatory government conduct on the basis of sex when it occurs in the context of State-run, federally funded educational programs and institutions. In particular, Title IX provides that no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Prior to this case, it was well settled that 13 of a student in a federally funded educational program or activity, if it is perpetrated by a teacher or other employee of the funding recipient, can render the recipient liable for damages under Title IX. What was less clear was whether a school can be liable for failing to take prompt, appropriate action to remedy known 13 of one student by other students. Although inconsistent with three other circuits, the court ultimately held that a Title IX fund recipient may be held liable for its failure to take prompt, appropriate action in response to student-on-student 13 that takes place while students are involved in school activities or otherwise under the supervision of school employees, provided the recipient’s responsible officials actually knew that the harassment was taking place. The failure to promptly take appropriate steps in response to known 13 is itself intentional discrimination on the basis of sex. Since Jane Doe alleged such a failure, she properly alleged the sort of intentional discrimination against which Title IX protects. Doe’s case was then remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.