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Supreme Court Decision Protects Remedies for Gender Discrimination in Public Schools

(Washington, DC)  A Supreme Court ruling issued today safeguards women’s and girls’ rights by allowing them to pursue remedies for gender discrimination in schools under both Title IX and the Constitution. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) applauds the 9-0 reversal of a court of appeals decision that limited women’s and girls’ ability to challenge the violation of their constitutional rights when they face discrimination in education.

“Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, is still all too common in our nation’s educational institutions. That’s why it is crucial that a full range of remedies remain available to those who face discrimination,” stated Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of NWLC.

In the case, Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, a kindergarten girl claimed that a third grade boy regularly harassed her on the school bus. Her parents were very dissatisfied with the school’s response, and sued under Title IX, the federal statute that bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal money, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which is enforced through another federal statute known as Section 1983.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the parents under Title IX. It also held that the parents could only sue under Title IX, and that no one protected under Title IX also had a right to claim their Constitutional rights against discrimination.

The Fitzgeralds brought only the preemption issue to the Supreme Court. The National Women’s Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lead amicus brief on behalf of thirty-nine other groups.

In today’s decision, the Court ruled for the Fitzgeralds. The opinion, written by Justice Alito, stated that: “We hold that §1983 suits based on the Equal Protection Clause remain available to plaintiffs alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools.” Greenberger said: “The Supreme Court appropriately recognized that when Congress passed Title IX it intended to create a new statutory remedy that would supplement, not replace, Constitutional and other legal protections against sex discrimination. Effective enforcement of both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution remains essential if sex discrimination in educational institutions is to be eliminated.” 


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