NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Applying Federal Antidiscrimination Laws To Unruly Schoolchildren

January 12, 1999

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. Its decision will determine whether schools can be held liable under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments -- which bars sex discrimination -- for student-on- student sexual harassment.

  • In the case, the plaintiff is demanding $500,000, based on her claim that a fifth-grade Georgia classmate sexually harassed her on eight occasions, while school officials did little to stop the harassment.
  • Her case is being litigated by feminist advocacy groups and is supported by the Clinton administration.
  • Legal observers warn that if the Supreme Court issues an open-ended ruling in the plaintiff's favor, students may be able to make a federal case out of an unwanted peck on the cheek.
  • Such a determination could result in millions upon millions of potential complaints.

Some legal scholars have suggested that schools drowning in a sea of Title IX legal bills and damage awards should turn around and sue parents for indemnification. They also point out that expansion of Title IX would also damage the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech -- since transgressions could be so broadly defined as to include sexual comments, jokes, gestures or looks.

Source: Curt A. Levey, "If Billy Teases Suzy, Can Suzy Sue?" Wall Street Journal, January 12, 1999.


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