Coach Demoted for Alleging Sex Bias Gets Supreme Court Hearing

By Shannon Augustus | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - The U.S. Supreme Court Monday handed a victory to supporters of the federal law barring sex discrimination at publicly funded schools, although the victory might only be temporary.

The high court will take up the case involving an Alabama girl's high school basketball coach who was demoted after using the Title IX anti-discrimination law to complain that his team had been treated unfairly.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Roderick Jackson of Birmingham, Ala., who lost his coaching job after complaining, did not have the right to sue over the punishment he received. But in agreeing to review the lower court ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court will look at an aspect of the Title IX law that its supporters say is essential.

"Civil rights are meaningless if individuals can be penalized for trying to enforce them," Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, stated in a press release. "We are pleased that the Supreme Court is taking this critical case. Teachers, coaches, students and others who bring sex discrimination to the attention of school officials must be protected from retaliation for asserting their rights."

The controversy began when Jackson, a teacher and coach at Ensley High School in Birmingham, complained that the girls on his basketball squad were not getting enough funding, equipment or access to sports facilities. As a result, Jackson got negative performance evaluations and the local school board eventually stripped him of his coaching job.

In siding with the school board, the 11th Circuit Court issued a ruling that is contrary to the view expressed by all other federal appellate courts on the issue, the National Women's Law Center stated.

Other aspects of Title IX have been debated all over the country, with the coaches of male programs arguing that the proportional funding requirements sometimes result in female programs receiving money even when there is only marginal interest among female athletes. The 1972 law prohibits sex discrimination by requiring that the percentage of funds made available for female programs match the percentage of female students at the school.

Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, said he supports Title IX, but not "quotas," which he feels have punished male athletes on low-profile teams like wrestling, gymnastics and track and field.

"We will be the first to admit that women were discriminated against 30 years ago in intercollegiate athletics," Moyer said. "It was wrong, but a lot has changed over the 30 years. There are over a 1,000 more teams for women in the NCAA than men."

As a result, Moyer stated in a press release, "Every school in the country has either cut teams or put strict limits on the number of men who can participate in order to meet the quota provision in Title IX."

The "quota" controversy must be addressed, Moyer said, or "we're going to see the continued wholesale elimination of men's teams."

However, Moyer did not dispute Jackson's right to protest unfair treatment under Title IX. "Certainly a coach should be able to speak up on behalf of his team without being fired," Moyer said.

Greenberger added that the outcome of the Birmingham, Ala., case, would affect the future of civil rights.

"The strength of our bedrock civil rights laws, like Title IX, hinges on the willingness of citizens to come forward with information about potentially unlawful discrimination -- to do exactly what Mr. Jackson did in this case," she said.

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