A Supreme Court Victory For School Sexual Harassment Cases

Posted on January 21st, 2009 by Katherine Franke

The Supreme Court issued several very important opinions this morning, one we have blogged about before – Fitzgerald v. Barnstable – in which the Court was asked to determine whether the remedy provided by the federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination, including sex harassment, in schools (Title IX) precludes enforcement of sex discrimination claims under the Constitution.

To our relief, the Court ruled UNANIMOUSLY that Title IX does not preclude constitutional claims, on the ground (for you lawyers out there):

Title IX has no administrative exhaustion requirement and no notice provisions. Plaintiffs can file directly in court under its implied private right of action and can obtain the full range of remedies. Accordingly, parallel and concurrent §1983 claims will neither circumvent required procedures nor allow access to new remedies … Because Title IX’s protections are narrower in some respects and broader in others than those guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause, the Court cannot agree with the First Circuit that Congress saw Title IX as the sole means of correcting unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools.

The full opinion is available here.

(On a distressing note for civil rights lawyers, in a separate case issued this morning, the Supreme Court unanimously overruled Saucier v. Katz in Pearson v. Callahan and adopted a discretionary standard that allows courts to resolve the qualified immunity inquiry without first determining whether a constitutional right was violated.  This ruling deals with a very technical part of civil rights law that will make it much more difficult for plaintiffs to win constitutional cases and will deter the evolution of the law in cases where the law had not yet been clarified by and through judicial opinions.  The opinion is here.)


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