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Court Hear Arguments on Title IX Coverage for Employees

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Washington--The Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments on whether Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funds, applies to employees as well as to students.

In the case, North Haven Board of Education v. Bell, two Connecticut school boards challenge federal regulations prohibiting sex discrimination in employment under the rubric of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Federal Investigation

The North Haven case grew out of that school board's refusal to supply information on its employment policies during a federal investigation into alleged sex discrimination.

In Trumbull Board of Education v. U.S. Department of Education and Linda Potz, a related case combined with North Haven, Ms. Potz, a former guidance counselor, claims she was unfairly treated and dismissed, in violation of Title IX.

In both instances, the school boards claim that sex discrimination in employment is not the province of the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare, or of its successor, the Department of Education.

Lawyers for both school boards, however, conceded in the oral arguments before the Court that there might be some instances in which Title IX would apply to job discrimination.

"Only where discrimination [in employment] is so widespread that it discriminates against students" should Title IX be invoked, said Susan K. Krell, representing the North Haven board.

Countered Beverly Hodgson, lawyer for Ms. Potz: "The reason Title IX does apply to employees is that employment discrimination does affect students, and that can be adjusted by the administrative agency that recognizes that."

Lacking Counselor

When Ms. Potz was dismissed, Ms. Hodgson said, "female junior-high-school students were left without a female guidance counselor," to the detriment of their education.

The remedies available under Title IX, Ms. Hodgson said under questioning by Chief Justice Warren Burger, go beyond those in conventional employment-discrimination cases. "They can be fine-tuned to the perception ... that discrimination has an effect on students," she said.

Another key issue is whether Congress, in enacting Title IX, intended that it cover school employees. Both sides presented excerpts of Congressional debate to support their respective positions.

'Must Be Held Invalid'

The officials who wrote the rules "attempted to rewrite the statutory scheme by regulation, which they may not do," Ms. Krell argued. "I think the regulations as written go much further than what was intended by Congress, and as such, they must be held invalid."

Despite a disagreement between Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and the Department of Justice over interpretations of Title IX, the government presented a united front in defending the validity of the regulations.

Although Secretary Bell believes that the law does not apply to employment--and has proposed abolishing the Title IX regulations in question--the Department of Education has agreed to delay any changes until the case is decided.

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