The Supreme Court ruling that federal law barring sex discrimination in schools and colleges also prohibits school officials from retaliating against those who bring sex discrimination complaints is a major victory. It should be hailed by those who care about protecting the rights of individuals.
The 5-4 ruling resolved conflicting interpretations in the lower courts over the scope of the law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinion. The court held that the law's protection extends beyond those who are themselves the victims of sex discrimination, and applies to third parties who complain about sex discrimination on behalf of others.
The case involved a male gym teacher who lost his job as a girls' basketball coach at a high school in Birmingham, Ala. He was replaced after complaining that the girls' team had to play and practice under adverse conditions compared with the boys' team.
While school officials may have been annoyed at the complaint, firing a coach for pointing out signs of sex discrimination is simply wrong. It is the obligation of teachers and coaches to point out discriminatory practices. As O'Connor wrote: "Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination."
The fact that Title IX does not actually mention retaliation was part of the basis for Justice Clarence Thomas' dissenting opinion. He described the outcome of the case as contrary to the language of the statute. However, the failure of the statute to list specifics should not mean that it is not open to interpretation.
The ruling signals a victory for equal rights and opportunity. It was the right decision.