Equity & Diversity

Supreme Court: From the Docket

July 13, 2009 4 min read

The Supreme Court handled a number of additional cases with implications for schools during the term that ended in June.

Case No. 07-1125
Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee
Issued Jan. 21, 2009

The court unanimously ruled that Title IX does not bar victims of sex discrimination in schools from pursuing claims under an older federal civil rights law, known as Section 1983. The decision is a victory for the parents of a Massachusetts student who claimed that school officials failed to adequately respond to sexual harassment of their daughter—then in kindergarten—by a 3rd-grade boy on her bus.
Read the opinion.

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Case No. 07-1428
Ricci v. DeStefano
Issued June 29, 2009

The court ruled 5-4 in favor of a group of mostly white firefighters who claimed they were victims of reverse discrimination. The court said that before an employer may take a race-conscious action for the asserted purpose of avoiding an unintentional disparate racial impact, it must have a “strong basis in evidence” to believe it will face liability in a disparate-impact suit under Title VII. The majority held that the city of New Haven, Conn., had to abide by the results of a promotional exam for firefighters in which no black candidates scored high enough to qualify for promotion.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 07-869
Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association
Issued Feb. 24, 2009

The court ruled 6-3 that a state’s restriction on school district and other local government employee-payroll deductions for politics does not violate the free-speech rights of unions, a decision that could lead to an increase in states’ attempts to curtail the power of public-employee unions. The case involved Idaho’s Voluntary Contributions Act, which prohibits school districts and other local government bodies from using their payroll systems to let workers voluntarily deduct money from their paychecks for political causes, such as for the union’s political-action funds.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 08-441
Gross v. FBL Financial Services
Issued June 18, 2009

The 5-4 ruling is expected to make it more difficult for workers to win age-discrimination claims, in a case that may affect employment decisions by school districts. The justices refused to adopt a complex burden-shifting procedure for proving bias under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, in the case of an insurance supervisor who alleged age bias in his demotion by his employer. The majority said a plaintiff bringing a disparate-treatment claim under the adea must generally prove that age was the central motivating factor for an adverse employment action.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 08-322
Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder
Issued June 22, 2009

The justices ruled unanimously that all local governments, including school districts, in states and jurisdictions covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval of any changes in voting procedures, have the right to seek “bailout,” or exemption, from the requirements of the law. The ruling came in a case in which the justices suggested they had strong constitutional concerns about the 2006 renewal of the voting-rights law, but they stopped short of overturning it.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 07-610
Locke v. Karass
Issued Jan. 21, 2009

The court ruled unanimously that a local public-sector union may charge non-members for national litigation expenses under certain circumstances. The ruling in favor of the Maine State Employees’ Association involves a small portion of the fee that local affiliates pay to national unions for legal action that may not directly benefit the local union.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 07-751
Pearson v. Callahan
Issued Jan. 21, 2009

In a unanimous decision, the court made it easier for judges to grant educators, the police, and other public officials immunity from lawsuits challenging their official actions. The court effectively overruled one of its own precedents that said judges determining whether government officials were entitled to “qualified immunity” must first decide whether a constitutional violation had even occurred.
Read the opinion.

Case No. 06-1595
Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn.
Issued Jan. 26, 2009

The court unanimously ruled in a case involving a school district employee that workers who cooperate with their employers’ internal investigations of discrimination may not be fired in retaliation for implicating colleagues or superiors. The court said the employee of Metropolitan Nashville public schools can pursue a civil rights lawsuit over her firing.
Read the opinion.

Compiled by Education Week Assistant Editor Erik W. Robelen and Contributing Writer Mark Walsh.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week

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