Ohio Education Update; Title IX Ruling Provides New Cause of Action Against Schools

    View Author March 2005
    In a 5-4 decision announced Tuesday, March 29, 2005, the US Supreme Court held that Title IX allows individuals who believe they were retaliated against because they complained about sex discrimination to sue educational institutions covered by the law. In Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, the Court ruled that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination "on the basis of sex," covers retaliation claims even when an employee complains of discrimination against a student. Title IX generally applies to "any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

    In 1993, the Board of Education of the Birmingham, Alabama public schools hired Roderick Jackson to work as a physical education teacher and girls' basketball coach. After transferring to a high school within the school district, Jackson discovered that the girls' basketball team did not have equal funding and access to athletic equipment and facilities. Jackson complained to his supervisors, but his complaints were not addressed. Thereafter, Jackson received negative work evaluations and was removed as the girls' basketball coach.

    He filed suit in federal court, claiming the board violated Title IX by retaliating against him for complaining of discrimination against the girls' basketball team. On appeal from lower court decisions granting the board's motion to dismiss, the Supreme Court held that, despite the fact that Title IX does not specifically list retaliation as a type of unlawful discrimination, "[r]etaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX's private cause of action." The Court further stated that retaliation is discrimination "on the basis of sex" under Title IX because such retaliation is an intentional response to an allegation of sex discrimination. The Court noted that recipients of federal funding were on notice that they could be liable for retaliation claims based on the broad language in Title IX prohibiting sex discrimination.

    This decision provides a new cause of action for employees of schools receiving federal funding and underscores the need for school districts and other educational institutions covered by Title IX to very carefully address employee complaints of unequal treatment on behalf of students. Schools should treat an employee who complains of the unequal treatment of students in the same manner as they do an employee who complains of discrimination on his or her own behalf. As with any other complaint of discrimination, schools should consult with legal counsel to ensure that they properly address the employee complaint and that they document the basis for any adverse employment action against the complaining employee.

    For more information on this important decision and other issues relating to retaliation claims, contact one of the Squire Sanders lawyers listed in this Update.