Two Good Rulings from the Court

February 02, 2009

In October we reported on the oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court for a significant sexual harassment case, Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. To recap the case, Vicky Crawford, an employee of the Nashville Metro School District, was asked by her employers to cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against her boss. Crawford was later fired, and she believes she was terminated in retaliation for her role in the investigation. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains an anti-retaliation provision, two lower courts found that an internal investigation is not protected by Title VII. AAUW signed an amicus brief supporting Crawford’s position.

Thankfully, last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that workers cannot be fired or otherwise retaliated against for cooperating with internal sexual harassment investigations that arise under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Court’s ruling represents a major victory for protecting the scope of protection afforded under Title VII to persons subject to sexual harassment. As Justice David Souter, author of the Court’s opinion, stated, “Nothing in the statute requires a freakish rule protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her boss asks a question.”

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, another case AAUW signed as an amici in support of the plaintiff. Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergarten student in Massachusetts, was forced repeatedly by an older boy to remove her clothes during bus rides to school. Jacqueline’s parents asked school officials to intervene, but the school board declined and took no disciplinary action against the perpetrator. The Fitzgerald family sued the school district alleging violations of both Title IX and the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. The latter is enforced by Section 1983 of the United States Code, a statute put in place by the 1871 Civil Rights Law, which in some cases offers additional protections not included under Title IX.

Thankfully again, the Court ruled unanimously that those persons who sue under the Title IX statute may simultaneously do so under another civil rights statute known as Section 1983. As Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion stated, “We conclude that Title IX was not meant to be an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimination in schools, or as a substitute for Section 1983 suits as a means of enforcing constitutional rights.”

With these two rulings and the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, we had a great week at AAUW!

This post is co-authored by Holly Kearl and Adam Zimmerman.

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Holly Kearl By:   |   February 02, 2009

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