Sunday, January 25, 2009


The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a ruling that strengthened the legislative and legal protections available to victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. In Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, the Court ruled unanimously those persons who sue under the landmark 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."

The case was brought by the parents of Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergarten student in Massachusetts who was forced repeatedly by an older boy to remove her clothes during bus rides to school. Upon hearing this information from their daughter, Jacqueline's parents asked school officials to intervene, proposing either that the harassing student be transferred to a different bus or that the school assign an adult monitor to ride the bus. The school board declined both options, and took no disciplinary action against the perpetrator. The Fitzgerald family then 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.

The Court heard oral arguments for the case in December 2008 - and AAUW signed an amicus brief in support of the Fitzgerald's position. AAUW is committed to eliminating significant boundaries to educational opportunities that women and girls encounter, including sexual harassment. Read the AAUW study on sexual harassment in schools, "Drawing the Line," and learn what AAUW is doing to help eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination.
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