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A comparison of the substantive rights and protections guaranteed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681 et seq., and under the Equal Protection Clause lends support to the conclusion that Congress did not intend Title IX to preclude 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 constitutional suits. Title IX's protections are narrower in some respects and broader in others. Because the protections guaranteed by the two sources of law diverge in this way, the U.S. Supreme Court cannot agree that Congress saw Title IX as the sole means of vindicating the constitutional right to be free from gender discrimination perpetrated by educational institutions. Title IX reaches institutions and programs that receive federal funds, which may include nonpublic institutions, but it has consistently been interpreted as not authorizing suit against school officials, teachers, and other individuals. The Equal Protection Clause reaches only state actors, but § 1983 equal protection claims may be brought against individuals as well as municipalities and certain other state entities. Title IX exempts from its restrictions several activities that may be challenged on constitutional grounds. Even where particular activities and particular defendants are subject to both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, the standards for establishing liability may not be wholly congruent.
Petitioners Lisa and Robert Fitzgerald filed suit against respondents, the local school district's governing board and superintendent, alleging that the respondents’ response to allegations of sexual harassment of petitioners' daughter by an older student was inadequate, raising claims under, inter alia, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the § 1983 claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents in Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 101 S. Ct. 2615, 69 L. Ed. 2d 435; Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 104 S. Ct. 3457, 82 L. Ed. 2d 746; and Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 125 S. Ct. 1453, 161 L. Ed. 2d 316, Title IX's implied private remedy was sufficiently comprehensive to preclude the use of § 1983 to advance constitutional claims. Petitioners sought certiorari review of the appellate court’s decision.
Did Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 preclude a § 1983 action alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools?
The Court held that Title IX did not preclude a § 1983 action alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools. The Court did not agree that Congress saw Title IX as the sole means of vindicating the constitutional right to be free from gender discrimination perpetuated by educational institutions. In light of the divergent coverage of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, as well as the absence of a comprehensive remedial scheme comparable to those at issue in Sea Clammers, Smith, and Rancho Palos Verdes, the Court concluded that Title IX was not meant to be an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimination in schools or a substitute for § 1983 suits as a means of enforcing constitutional rights. Accordingly, the Court held that § 1983 suits based on the Equal Protection Clause remained available to plaintiffs alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools.