The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Supreme Court: Title IX Prohibits Retaliation

Feature Story by civilrights.org staff - 3/29/2005

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled today that Title IX prohibits retaliation against individuals who protest sex discrimination.

The decision in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education addressed the claim of Roderick Jackson, a teacher and coach who was fired from his coaching position at Ensley High School in Birmingham, Alabama for complaining about unequal treatment and access to service and facilities for his team.

"This decision is a slam dunk victory for everyone who cares about equal opportunity," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "The Court has confirmed that people cannot be punished for standing up for their rights. This protection is not just critical for Title IX, but also for other bedrock civil rights laws."

At Ensley High, only the boys' team could use the school's new gym; have access to ice for their injuries and other key services; and have the use of proceeds from concession and ticket sales from their games.

When Jackson protested these conditions to the school board, he was fired. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that his suit could not proceed because Congress did not intend Title IX to address retaliation claims.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded programs. While the statute has been silent on the subject of retaliation, the federal government had interpreted it in the past to cover retaliation claims.

"The Court's ruling is a win-win for schools and students," said Jackson. "Knowing that we are protected against retaliation, people like my students and me will be more likely to come forward if we see discrimination. That will give schools notice of problems and a chance for students and administrators to work together to fix them. That's what I really wanted when I started this process."

Writing for the Jackson majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stated, "Congress enacted Title IX not only to prevent the use of federal dollars to support discriminatory practices, but also 'to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.' This objective would be difficult to achieve if persons complaining about sex discrimination did not have effective protection against retaliation."

Joining Justice O'Connor in the majority were Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Stephen Breyer. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy joined.

The case will return to federal district court in Birmingham, where Jackson will have the chance to prove that he was terminated in retaliation for his complaints.

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