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Supreme Court Gives Mixed Signals on Title IX

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Washington--One week after its decision that Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in education programs, applies to school employees as well as to students, the Supreme Court on May 24 overturned two federal appeals-court decisions that Title IX does not apply to employment.

But the Court, in a move that has caused some confusion, refused to hear another school sex-discrimination case, in which a Dayton, Ohio, administrator alleged that she was denied promotion to a principalship because of her sex.

The administrator had brought suit in 1977 under both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a separate employment-discrimination law. A federal district court had ruled against the administrator's Title IX claim, on the grounds that the statute did not apply to employees. The decision was upheld last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Similar Decisions Overturned

Although the Supreme Court overturned two similar federal appeals-court decisions last week, in Bell v. Dougherty County School System and Department of Education v. Seattle University, its failure to overturn the Title IX portion of the Sixth Circuit ruling has raised new questions about the Court's recent employment-discrimination decision.

The Court had ruled on May 17, in a Connecticut case known as North Haven v. Bell, that Title IX was intended by the Congress to protect employees from discrimination based on sex. The decision was thought to settle the employment-discrimination issue, which has been the subject of several conflicting rulings in federal appeals courts during the 10 years since Title IX became law.

In the Sixth Circuit case, Carter v. Dayton Board of Education, the administrator, Iris Carter, originally brought her claim of discrimination to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's office for civil rights, which administered Title IX until the Education Department was created. Her Title VII complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Investigators for both of those federal agencies found that discrimination had occurred, according to Ms. Carter's attorney.

Because federal appeals courts had previously ruled against the Ti-tle IX employment provisions, both the district court and the Sixth Circuit court decided the case based only on Title VII. The district court found that Ms. Carter failed to prove discrimination based on sex, and the Sixth Circuit concurred.

The attorney, Charles E. Guerrier, said last week he was "dumbfounded" at the Supreme Court's refusal to overturn the Title IX decision. "I expected that the Court would vacate the Title IX portion of the decision and send it back for a decision on the merits," he said.

Apparent Conflict

Mr. Guerrier said that, because of the apparent conflict between the Court's decision against his client and the North Haven decision, he would consider requesting the Court to rehear the case.

In addition, because the legal procedure for determining a violation of Title IX is different from that used by the district court in deciding the Title VII claim, Mr. Guerrier said he may ask for a rehearing, based on Title IX, at the district-court level.

Finally, Mr. Guerrier said that, because the Education Department is scheduled to resume investigating employment-discrimination claims in light of the North Haven decision, he may ask the federal government to reopen the investigation of Ms. Carter's claim.

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