Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Student Whistleblower Loses Retaliation Case

A court in Arizona dismissed a Title IX case against the Gilbert Public Schools, in which the plaintiff argued she was retaliated against for reporting sexual comments by her coach. The plaintiff, Madison Power, was a sophomore on the basketball team when she reported to her parents and ultimately the school district that she had been made uncomfortable by the assistant coach when he made some comments of a sexual nature during a ride home from a tournament out of town. Based on this report, the school district decided not to hire the assistant coach for the subsequent school year.

Power alleges that she faced reprisal from the head coach, who was married to the terminated assistant coach, and other members of the basketball team. She alleges that the coach expressed anger about Power and defended her husband to other players. As a result of her report, she was demoted to junior varsity the following year, and that other members of the varsity team sought to punish her by tripping her, fouling her hard at practice, and calling her a bitch on a MySpace page.

But the court determined that Power's case does not constitute a violation of Title IX. The head coach was recused from tryouts and did not participate in the decision that assigned Power to junior varsity, so that allegation could not support a retaliation claim. The court also found that the the other students' behavior lacked requisite severity and did not deprive Power of educational opportunity. Moreover, the court found that the school district had responded appropriately when Power complained about the head coach an the harassing students, issuing warnings as the situation warranted.

Here, the plaintiff charged that was punished by her peers and her coach for reporting the sexual inappropriateness of her assistant coach. No student should face such reprisals. But in this case, the the school district's reasonable response to the situation insulated it from second-guessing by the court.