A federal court in the Middle District of Georgia has denied a coach’s motion to amend her discrimination lawsuit with a Title IX claim, ruling that such claims are pre-empted if a Title VII claim is available to a plaintiff.
Girls Basketball Coach Cara Hankinson, acting pro se, initially sued the school district on December 29, 2004, claiming that she was a victim of sexual discrimination under Title VII. Shortly thereafter, Hankinson sought leave to assert two more additional claims: a Title IX claim and an Equal Pay Act claim.
The impetus for the Title IX claim was that the defendant, Thomas County School District, “provided better funding for the boys’ baseball program than for the girls’ softball program and treated Plaintiff differently than coaches of male sports.”
The court began its analysis by reviewing Title IX case law, noting specifically that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Title IX “implies a private right of action including sexual harassment of a student by a teacher or student provided that the educational institution was deliberately indifferent to the harassment. Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 290-91, 141 L. Ed. 2d 277, 118 S. Ct. 1989 (1998) (teacher’s sexual harassment of a student), Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed., 526 U.S. 629, 642, 143 L. Ed. 2d 839, 119 S. Ct. 1661 (1999) (student’s sexual harassment of a student). Title IX also prohibits employment discrimination, North Haven Board of Education v. Ball, 456 U.S. 512, 530, 72 L. Ed. 2d 299, 102 S. Ct. 1912 (1982),and retaliation after complaining about sex discrimination. Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ., U.S., 161 L. Ed. 2d 361, 125 S.Ct. 1497, 1510 (2005).”
While conceding that the plaintiff can bring a private action to enforce Title IX, the defendant argued that the plaintiff “cannot sustain such an action,” arguing that “Title VII preempts Title IX to the extent that Plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim could be brought under Title VII” and that the plaintiff lacks standing to challenge the defendant’s actions under Title IX, because she is no longer employed.
The district judge agreed with the defendant’s first argument, writing that “there is authority to support the proposition that Title IX claims that could have been brought under Title VII are preempted. See Lakoski v. James, 66 F.3d 751, 753 (5th Cir. 1995) (holding that ‘individuals seeking money damages for employment discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions may not assert Title IX either directly or derivatively’); Waid v. Merrill Area Public Schools, 91 F.3d 857, 862-63 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding Title VII preempted Title IX claims for which Title VII provided relief); cf. Polson v. Davis, 895 F.2d 705, 710 (10th Cir. 1990) (holding Title VII provides the exclusive remedy for employment discrimination suits premised solely on its violation.).”
Furthermore, the Supreme Court addressed a similar situation in Great Am. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Novotny, 442 U.S. 366, 99 S. Ct. 2345, 60 L. Ed. 2d 957 (1979). In Great American, the Court addressed the interplay between Title VII and § 1985 explaining, ‘If a violation of Title VII could be asserted through § 1985(3), a complainant could avoid most, if not all of [the] detailed and specific provisions of the law . . . [including] [t$]he short and precise time limitations of Title VII [and] the administrative process, which plays such a crucial role in the scheme established by Congress in Title VII.’ 442 U.S. at 375-76.
“Here, using the same rationale that the Supreme Court employed in Great American, this Court agrees with those courts that hold Title VII preempts employment discrimination claims for money damages brought under Title IX.”
The court next turned to the second issue that the plaintiff lacks standing to bring her claim. The plaintiff claimed that she “clearly has standing to bring a Title IX claim individually and on behalf of those participating in girls’ sports because she was a coach when the allegedly discriminatory conduct took place and can resume coaching at anytime.
“As the court has already determined that the money damage portion of the plaintiff’s Title IX claim that pertains to employment discrimination is preempted by Title VII, it is only necessary to address whether the plaintiff has standing to (1) seek injunctive relief requiring the defendant to stop discriminating against her and (2) challenge Defendant’s allegedly discriminatory treatment of the girls’ softball program or behalf of those participating in the program.”
Since the plaintiff is no longer employed by the defendant, the court found the first point moot. The court also quashed the second point, writing:
“Plaintiff’s claim essentially seeks to adopt the standing of the participants in the program as her own; this she cannot do. Independent of Plaintiff’s individual claims for employment discrimination that have already been addressed, Plaintiff suffered no other injury for which she can recover under Title IX. … As Plaintiff has no legal interest in this claim and seeks to rest the claim on the rights of others, Plaintiff does not have standing to bring a Title IX claim on behalf of the students participating in the softball program. See Lowrey v. Texas A&M University System, 117 F.3d 242, 251 (5th Cir. 1997) (‘It is axiomatic that [a former female basketball coach] cannot state a claim for discrimination [under Title IX] on behalf of her students.’)”
Cara Hankinson v. Thomas County School District; M.D.Ga.; Civil Action No. 6:04-CV-71 (HL); 10/28/05
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) John W. Roper, Columbus, GA. (for defendant)
David Arthur Siegel, Columbus, GA; George R. Lilly, II, Thomasville, GA.