Taking a Stand
As the first Monday in October approaches, and with it the start of the new Supreme Court term, advocacy groups across the country are already choosing sides on the various court cases that the Court has decided to hear. This week, the Union for Reform Judaism signed onto an amicus (“friend of the court “) brief, stating our position on a case entitled Fitzgerald v. Barnstable.
The case will decide whether Title IX preempts additional, constitutional claims in sexual harassment cases. The brief, spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), emphasizes that Congress intended Title IX to provide further protection for women experiencing discrimination based on their sex, not limit the protections that were already in place.
The case was brought by the parents of Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergartener who was repeatedly harassed by an older boy on the bus on the way to her public school. When the school failed to sufficiently address the problem, Jacqueline’s parents filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, alleging violations of Title IX, the U.S. Constitution, and Massachusetts state law. An appeals court declined to consider the family’s constitutional claims, rejecting the lower court’s decision to do so, on the grounds that Title IX preempts additional, constitutional claims. Since circuit courts have issued conflicting rulings on this question, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider this case and make an authoritative statement whether individuals who are experiencing sexual harassment can file suit under Title IX alone or whether they can also claim constitutional protection.
As always, we will be closely watching the Supreme Court’s decisions in the upcoming term. The decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable will be a key example of the Court’s power to limit or reaffirm the rights that we so vehemently fight for in the legislature. Hopefully, in this case, the Court will be on our side.