- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The Supreme Court expanded the scope of a landmark gender-equity law, ruling yesterday that it shields whistleblowers who accuse academic institutions of discrimination based on sex.

The 5-4 decision in favor of Alabama high school girls basketball coach Roderick Jackson is a victory for women’s advocates who say the legal protection will prompt reports of bias that otherwise would go unsaid or unheeded.

The ruling means Mr. Jackson can pursue a lawsuit claiming he was fired for complaining that the boys team received better treatment. Congress intended such lawsuits when it passed the Title IX law, justices said.

“Without protection from retaliation, individuals who witness discrimination would likely not report it, indifference claims would be short-circuited, and the underlying discrimination would go unremedied,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority.

She was joined in her opinion by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. In the minority were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy.

The 1972 law, best-known for promoting women’s athletics, bars sex discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funds. It already was settled law that students or others could sue if they thought they were shortchanged based on their sex.

But the statute has been silent as to the rights of whistleblowers — regardless of sex — who aren’t direct victims of discrimination, but who claim retaliation. Since 1975, the federal government has interpreted Title IX to cover retaliation claims.

Women’s advocates immediately cheered the ruling.

“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.”

Justice Thomas, in the minority opinion, said whistleblowers shouldn’t be given protection unless Congress explicitly says so. The opinion noted that other civil rights laws have specific provisions addressing retaliation.

“Jackson’s retaliation claim lacks the connection to actual sex discrimination that the statute requires,” Justice Thomas wrote. “The question before us is only whether Title IX prohibits retaliation, not whether prohibiting it is good policy.”

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