- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A landmark sex-equity law should protect people who report complaints of discrimination, the Supreme Court was told yesterday as it heard arguments in the case of an Alabama coach who was fired when he protested the unequal treatment of his girls’ high-school basketball team.

“This is vital to promoting the purposes of the act,” said government attorney Irving L. Gornstein, referring to the Title IX law, which is best known for promoting women’s athletics.

The Bush administration is supporting the position of the coach, Roderick Jackson, who lost his job in 2001 after repeatedly asking the Birmingham Board of Education to provide his team with a regulation-size gym with basketball rims that weren’t bent — just like the boys’ team had.

Mr. Jackson sued under the Title IX law to get his job back, with lost wages.

At issue is whether Congress intended to allow lawsuits by those who complain of sex bias — even if they are not direct victims — when it passed the 1972 law barring discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funds.

Justices appeared divided along ideological lines, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and other liberal members expressing concern that barring suits such as Mr. Jackson’s would deter discrimination complaints. Justice Antonin Scalia and his more conservative colleagues suggested that Congress never intended third-party protection.

Kenneth L. Thomas, a lawyer representing the Birmingham School Board, argued that allowing whistleblowers, regardless of their sex, to sue would open school districts to a wave of lawsuits.

“Don’t we have to consider congressional intent?” he asked.

Mr. Jackson’s attorney, Marcia Greenberger, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that her client was trying to protect the girls’ rights and that he should not have been punished for speaking out.

“What’s at stake in this case — which affects everyone around the country in the area of athletics and in every type of educational arena — is, can somebody try to enforce Title IX by simply speaking out and bringing to the attention of school officials violations of the law without being punished?” she said.

The lower courts in the case ruled against Mr. Jackson, noting that Title IX is silent on the matter. But other federal courts have reached an opposite conclusion in similar cases, reasoning that coaches and teachers are better-positioned to report discrimination than students.

Along with having access to information such as funding decisions, coaches are “more likely to have the courage and maturity necessary to make charges of discrimination and withstand the criticism that may follow,” the Bush administration writes in a friend-of-the-court brief backing Mr. Jackson.

The case has drawn wide interest, with support from a coalition of 180 civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as dozens of women’s advocacy groups.

Opposing Mr. Jackson are the National School Boards Association as well as Alabama and eight other states, which fear a flood of lawsuits.

“Litigation against school boards represents a diversion of scarce resources and a distraction from their mission of academic achievement that the nation’s schools can ill afford,” the NSBA writes in its friend-of-the-court filing.

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