SPORTS: COACHING : LAW: CASES: Does Title IX Prohibit Retaliation Against
Coaches Who Point Out Sex Discrimination?
Does Title IX Prohibit Retaliation Against Coaches Who Point Out Sex Discrimination?
The Supreme Court Hears Argument On This Issue Today
By JOANNA GROSSMAN
Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004
Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Jackson v. Birmingham
Board of Education. In the case, Roderick Jackson -- formerly a basketball
coach at a public high school -- alleges that he was removed from his
coaching position in retaliation for his complaint that the school
discriminated against female athletes. The Court will decide whether -
assuming these allegations are true - he can bring a Title IX lawsuit.
The question the case raises is an intriguing one. Title IX is a federal
statute that targets sex discrimination, including sex discrimination in
athletics, when committed by public institutions, or private institutions
receiving federal funding. But the coach does not argue that he himself
was the victim of such discrimination; rather, he says he suffered
retaliation for reporting discrimination against his team members. Can he
The case is interesting for two main reasons. First, the position of the
United States is unusual. Solicitor General Theodore Olson has often taken
positions hostile to discrimination claims -- and even positions contrary
to those of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the
federal government's main anti-discrimination enforcer. But here, the
brief of the United States strongly sided with Coach Jackson by arguing
that Title IX does allow retaliation claims.
Second, as I will explain, the case may determine how difficult - or
straightforward - it will be to enforce equality within federally funded
educational institutions. Can coaches and teachers report sex-based
inequalities without fear? The Court will soon tell us.
Coach Jackson's Allegations: Blatant Violations, And Retaliatory
In 1999, when Coach Jackson began working for the high school at issue, he
observed some severe inequities in the treatment of male and female
athletes. The girls car-pooled to games; the boys took a team bus. The
girls practiced in a nearly-century-old gym without heat; the boys
practiced in the new arena where both the boys and girls played their
games. The girls - unlike the boys -- shot into smaller-than-regulation
hoops, with bent rims and no fiberglass on the backboards. Finally, unlike
the boys, the girls had no access to the expense account.
It seems clear, assuming Coach Jackson's allegations are true, that the
girls on the team could have brought a Title IX suit. Title IX has long
been applied to correct inequities in athletic programs at the high school
and collegiate level. And most lawsuits brought by girls' athletic teams
under Title IX have, at their heart, just the kind of disparity in
resources that Coach Jackson observed.
One might have thought, then, that the high school would have thanked
Coach Jackson from saving it from litigation - by pointing out its blatant
violations of federal law. Instead, Coach Jackson says the school
responded to his complaint by removing him from his coaching position.
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