Supreme Court Sides With Student in Sex-Bias Case – Title IX does not bar Section 1983 claims
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday Jan. 21, 2009 that Title IX does not bar victims of sex discrimination in schools from pursuing claims under an older federal civil rights law.
The decision is a victory for the parents of a Massachusetts student who claimed that school officials failed to adequately respond to sexual harassment of their daughter—then in kindergarten—by a 3rd-grade boy on her bus.
The parents may now pursue a claim under the federal statute known as Section 1983, a Reconstruction-era law that allows plaintiffs to sue any individual who violates their civil rights under color of law. In some cases, the statute may offer wider protections than Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
LISA FITZGERALD, ET VIR, PETITIONERS
BARNSTABLE SCHOOL COMMITTEE ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
[January 21, 2009]
To read full text go to: decision
No. 07–1125. Argued December 2, 2008—Decided January 21, 2009
Petitioners filed suit against respondents, the local school district’s governing board and superintendent, alleging that their response to allegations of sexual harassment of petitioners’ daughter by an olderstudent was inadequate, raising claims under, inter alia, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U. S. C. §1681(a), and 42
U. S. C. §1983 for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of theFourteenth Amendment. Among its rulings, the District Court dis-missed the §1983 claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that,under this Court’s precedents, Title IX’s implied private remedy wassufficiently comprehensive to preclude the use of §1983 to advanceconstitutional claims.
1. Title IX does not preclude a §1983 action alleging unconstitu-tional gender discrimination in schools. Pp. 4–12.
(a) In Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U. S. 1; Smith v. Robinson, 468 U. S. 992; and Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, 544 U. S. 113, this Court found that particular statutory enactments precluded §1983 claims where it wasestablished that Congress intended the statute’s remedial scheme to“be the exclusive avenue through which a plaintiff may assert [such] claims,” Smith, supra, at 1009. In determining whether Congress in-tended for a subsequent statute to preclude the enforcement of a fed-eral right under §1983, the Court has placed primary emphasis onthe nature and extent of that statute’s remedial scheme. See Sea Clammers, 453 U. S., at 20. Where the §1983 claim alleges a consti-tutional violation, a lack of congressional intent to preclude may alsobe inferred from a comparison of the rights and protections of the
other statute and those existing under the Constitution. Pp. 4–7.
(b) In the absence of a comprehensive remedial scheme compara-ble to those at issue in Sea Clammers, Smith, and Rancho Palos Verdes, and in light of the divergent coverage of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, it must be concluded that Title IX was not meant to be an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimi-nation in schools, or a substitute for §1983 suits as a means of enforc-ing constitutional rights. Pp. 7–12.
(i) Title IX’s only express enforcement mechanism, 20 U. S. C. §1682, is an administrative procedure resulting in the withdrawal of federal funding from noncompliant institutions. This Court has also recognized an implied private right of action, Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U. S. 677, 717, for which both injunctive relief and damages are available, Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U. S. 60, 76. These remedies stand in stark contrast to the “un-usually elaborate,” “carefully tailored,” and “restrictive” enforcementschemes of the statutes in Sea Clammers, Smith, and Rancho Palos Verdes. Unlike those statutes, Title IX has no administrative ex-haustion requirement and no notice provisions. Plaintiffs can file di-rectly in court under its implied private right of action and can obtainthe full range of remedies. Accordingly, parallel and concurrent§1983 claims will neither circumvent required procedures nor allowaccess to new remedies. Moreover, under Rancho Palos Verdes, “[t]heprovision of an express, private means of redress in the statute itself” is a key consideration in determining congressional intent, and “the existence of a more restrictive private remedy for statutory violationshas been the dividing line between those cases in which . . . an action would lie under §1983 and those in which we have held that it would not.” 544 U. S., at 121. Title IX contains no express private remedy, much less a more restrictive one. Pp. 7–9.
(ii) Because Title IX’s protections are narrower in some re-spects and broader in others than those guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause, the Court cannot agree with the First Circuit thatCongress saw Title IX as the sole means of correcting unconstitu-tional gender discrimination in schools. Title IX reaches institutions and programs that receive federal funds, 20 U. S. C. §1681(a), whichmay include nonpublic institutions, §1681(c), but it has consistentlybeen interpreted as not authorizing suit against school officials, teachers, and other individuals. Moreover, while the constitutional provision reaches only state actors, §1983 equal protection claims may be brought against individuals as well as state entities. West v. Atkins, 487 U. S. 42, 48–51. And Title IX exempts from its restric-tions several activities that may be challenged on constitutional grounds. See, e.g., §1681(a)(5). Even where particular activities and
particular defendants are subject to both Title IX and the Equal Pro-tection Clause, the standards for establishing liability may not bewholly congruent. Compare Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U. S. 274, 290, with Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U. S. 658, 694. Pp. 9–11.(iii) The Court’s conclusion is consistent with Title IX’s contextand history. Because the Congress that enacted Title IX authorized the Attorney General to intervene in private suits alleging sex dis-crimination violative of the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U. S. C.§2000h–2, Congress must have explicitly envisioned that privateplaintiffs would bring constitutional claims to challenge gender dis-crimination via §1983. Moreover, Title IX was modeled after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Cannon, supra, at 694–695, and, at the time of Title IX’s 1972 enactment, the lower courts routinely in-terpreted Title VI to allow for parallel and concurrent §1983 claims.Absent contrary evidence, it follows that Congress intended Title IXto be interpreted similarly to allow for parallel and concurrent §1983claims. Pp. 11–12. 2. As neither of the courts below addressed the merits of petition-ers’ constitutional claims or even the sufficiency of their pleadings,this Court will not do so in the first instance here. Pp. 12–13. 504 F. 3d 165, reversed and remanded. ALITO, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.