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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday broadened the reach of Title IX by ruling that its ban on sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds also protects whistle-blowers who are punished for reporting bias. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the court sided with Roderick Jackson, a male coach of a Birmingham, Ala., girl’s basketball team who was removed after complaining about inadequate funding for the girl’s program. The Bush administration also participated in the case on Jackson’s side. The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had ruled that Title IX does not encompass claims of retaliation — especially a claim filed by someone, like Jackson, who was not actually the target of the gender discrimination. “We conclude that when a funding recipient retaliates against a person because he complains of sex discrimination, this constitutes intentional discrimination ‘on the basis of sex,’ in violation of Title IX,” O’Connor wrote in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education. She also underlined that Title IX does create a private right of action, another issue in the case. O’Connor said a ruling that did not protect whistle-blowers would weaken the potency of Title IX. “If recipients were permitted to retaliate freely, individuals who witness discrimination would be loath to report it, and all manner of Title IX violations might go unremedied as result,” O’Connor said. “Indeed, if retaliation were not prohibited, Title IX’s enforcement scheme would unravel,” she said. Teachers and coaches, she added, are often in the best position to “vindicate the rights” of their students. “I’m very happy for the girls, and I couldn’t be more delighted with the decision,” said Jackson in a telephone news conference after the decision was announced. “The court’s ruling in my opinion is a win-win for the schools and the students.” Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, who represented Jackson, said the narrow margin of the decision “reaffirms how critically important every justice is.” O’Connor was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. Thomas protested that the majority’s ruling “is contrary to the plain terms of Title IX, because retaliatory conduct is not discrimination on the basis of sex.” Thomas also argued that the natural meaning of “on the basis of sex” would refer to “the plaintiff’s sex, not the sex of some other person.” As an example, Thomas wrote that if an air traffic controller refused to let a plane land because it was piloted by a woman, the male passengers on that plane could not claim they were discriminated against “on the basis of sex.” Though the decision gives Jackson the right to sue under Title IX, O’Connor cautioned that it was not a ruling on the merits of Jackson’s claim. The case now goes back for trial, where Jackson will have to prove that the Birmingham school board retaliated against him because of his complaints. Tony Mauro is the U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C. His e-mail address is [email protected] Editorial intern Marya Lucas contributed to this article.

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