Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Sports Law Headed to SCOTUS: Sports has made an incredible difference in numerous areas of the law, but perhaps its biggest influence has been in the realm of gender equality. Perhaps moreso than any other law, Title IX has brought women's issues to the forefront of national attention. The law's guarantee of equality in sports has paralleled growing equality in other segments of life and has proved to millions everywhere that women have the same talents, if not greater, than their male counterparts.

Gender relations could take another step forward after the Supreme Court's grant of cert in Jackson v. Birmingham BOE. The case involves Roderick Jackson, the coach of the women's basketball team at a Birmingham high school. Upon discovering that the school denied his team equal funding, equipment and facilities, he began protesting to his supervisors. Jackson claims that this led to poor performance evaluations, and ultimately, his termination.

Now Jackson is attempting to bring suit under Title IX, which guarantees gender equality in sports. The issue is whether Title IX allows individuals like Jackson, who suffer retaliation for trying to protect gender equality but do not themselves suffer gender discrimination, to bring suit. It is already settled that students, parents or others can sue under Title IX to correct alleged inequalities.

The 11th Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of the suit, saying that the law does not mention "retaliation." The Bush administration, though, urged the Court to take the case and overrule the circuit court.

On first glance, I support the coach in this case. If the people in power cannot speak up to enforce Title IX, it would seem to have almost no impact at all. Yes, individual athletes could file private suits, but this theory is flawed. One, not everyone can afford to file an individual lawsuit and win. Two, why should lawsuits be the way in which problems are solved in this country? I see the irony in encouraging lawsuits by those not discriminated against in order to reduce the overall amount of litigation, but in the long run, if coaches and administrators can effectively voice concerns without fear of retaliation, then the need for individual Title IX suits will decrease. No one should be fired for standing up for a federal law.

Private rights of action must have some limits, but limits that still allow for the purpose of the law to be achieved. Allowing suits such as these under Title IX ensures that gender equality can be preserved, not only in the courts, but also where it counts, in schools across the country.

You can read the 11th circuit opinion here and the US government's amicus brief here.