Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Know Your Rights

Two recent United States Supreme Court decisions strengthen employee protections.

On January 21, 2009, a unanimous opinion in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee written by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court reversed the First Circuit and held that plaintiffs suing for gender discrimination under Title IX may also assert constitutional claims under Section 1983. The Court reviewed the history of Title IX and found no evidence that Congress intended that legislation to preclude constitutional claims to redress gender discrimination under Section 1983. The Court noted that Title IX is modeled after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which addresses racial discrimination in education, and Title VI has long been held not to preclude parallel and concurrent Section 1983 claims. Therefore, the Court reasoned, “Title IX was not meant to be an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimination in schools, or as a substitute for § 1983 suits as a means of enforcing constitutional rights.” The Court therefore remanded the case, allowing claimants to proceed on both their Title IX and the Section 1983 claims.

On January 26, 2009, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed and remanded the Sixth Circuit decision in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville.The Supreme Court reviewed the conflict among circuit courts and held that the “opposition” clause of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provisions protects an employee who testifies in an internal investigation of alleged harassment. The Court ruled that Title VII’s protection “extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination during an employer’s internal investigation.” The Supreme Court ruling did not reach the issue of whether the “participation clause” of the anti-retaliation provisions also protects such an employee.

For additional information on these cases, see the AAUP’s Web site.

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