WASHINGTON— Title IX just got a few more teeth. Earlier this week the Supreme Court strengthened enforcement of Title IX by ruling that teachers and coaches may sue schools for giving girls second-rate treatment without fear of punishment.

The judges’ 5-4 ruling revived the lawsuit brought by Roderick Jackson, a teacher and girls’ basketball coach at Ensley High School in Birmingham, Ala., who was fired four years ago from his coaching position after objecting to unequal treatment for his athletes including practicing in an old, non-regulation gym and having no access to funds earned at the team’s games to pay for officials, equipment and other supplies.

When Jackson first sued to challenge his firing, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his complaint citing that Title IX protected discrimination victims, but not others who, at most, witnessed discrimination.

Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, the first woman to serve on the high court, said teachers and coaches are often in the best position to vindicate the rights of their students because they are better able to identify discrimination and bring it to the attention of administrators.

However, with a very close decision the Court remains closely divided. The dissenters William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, said the court should not go further to allow more lawsuits under Title IX. “Jackson does not claim that his own sex played any role, let alone a decisive or predominant one, in the decision to relieve him of his position,” Thomas wrote in the dissenting opinion.

After the high court ruling, Jackson’s case will now return to federal district court in Birmingham.

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