Title IX Won’t Support Discrimination Claim Based on Sexual Preference

Oct 8, 2004

Title IX does not create an avenue for student-athletes to sue their university or college if they suffer discrimination because of their sexual preference.
So held a federal magistrate judge in a case involving a female basketball player at North Central College, who sued the school after she was allegedly targeted for harassment because she is a heterosexual.
Plaintiff Danielle Howell filed her original four-count complaint on October 4, 2002, which charged the college and the other defendants with sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972,20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., violation of her due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
A little over three months later, a federal judge dismissed plaintiff’s Title IX claims against the individual defendants, her § 1983 claims against all defendants, and all her claims against her coach.
On March 15, 2004, the plaintiff sought leave to file an amended complaint to add a claim of retaliation in violation of Title IX and a claim for breach of contract. The proposed retaliation claim alleged that the defendants took adverse action against her and her parents, after they wrote a letter to the college’s athletic director complaining about the treatment she received from her coaches. The breach of contract claim alleges that the defendants breached a contract with plaintiff that was set out in certain student handbooks, which prohibited discrimination in college programs.
The plaintiff appealed, asking the court to vacate the original ruling that dismissed her complaint and grant her leave to amend her complaint.
In a subsequent hearing, the plaintiff’s attorney voluntarily dismissed the original Title IX claim with prejudice. This left the appeal of the order denying leave to add a retaliation and a breach of contract claim.
The magistrate judge reviewed the district judge’s finding. He focused on a pair of decisions from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Hamm v. Weyauwega Milk Products, Inc., 332 F.3d 1058 (7th Cir. 2003) and Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. and Health Care Center, 224 F.3d 701(7th Cir. 2000). The panel of judges in those cases held that a plaintiff could not maintain a retaliation claim where the conduct opposed was discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation. Hamm, 332 F.3d at 1066; Hamner, 224 F.3d at 707. Following these two holdings, Judge Bobrick denied plaintiff’s motion to add a retaliation claim to her complaint. 320 F. Supp.2d at 724.
The magistrate judge further held that “there is nothing in the holding to suggest that an underlying harassment claim that is objectively groundless – such as the plaintiff’s sexual orientation claim here – can provide the basis for a retaliation claim. McDonnell v. Cisneros, 84 F.3d 259 (7th Cir. 1996) (‘It is improper to retaliate for the filing of a claim of violation of Title VII even if the claim does not have merit – provided it is not completely groundless.’).”
Turning to the breach of contract claim, the court reasoned that because the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her original Title IX claim and “she cannot allege a retaliation claim that would withstand a motion to dismiss, the basis for invoking federal jurisdiction is gone. The general rule in such instances, which (the court) followed, is that the court should relinquish jurisdiction over pendent state law claims rather than resolve them on the merits. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c); Williams v. Aztar Indiana Gaming Corp., 351 F.3d 294, 300 (7th Cir. 2003).” Howell v. North Central College et al., N.D.Ill., No. 02 C 7163
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Kent D. Sinson, Sinson & Sinson, Ltd., Chicago, IL. (for defendant) Vincent Michael Casieri, Katherine Ann Rodosky, Schueler, Dallavo & Casier, Chicago, IL.


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