Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Undue Credit to Title IX

Yesterday Kris commented that the media seem to frequently give Title IX too much credit or too little. In another example of the former, consider this nostalgic piece in Washington State University's Daily Evergreen (via U-Wire) about the historic case Blair v. Washington State University. In 1982 female athletes and coaches sued WSU alleging gross inequities in participation opportunities, equipment and funding. The article gives the misimpression that the victory plaintiffs achieved in this case was a Title IX victory. The 1987 Washington Supreme Court decision makes clear that the case was decided entirely as a violation of the state Equal Rights Amendment and the state Law Against Discrimination. Title IX is not even mentioned in the Supreme Court's decision.

And for good reason. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court in Grove City College v. Bell construed the nondiscrimination mandate of Title IX to only apply to university programs receiving federal funds, which essentially exempted all athletic departments from compliance obligations. In 1987 Congress restored Title IX's application university-wide, but for much of the 1980s, while Grove City made its way up the federal courts, and for the period of time before the Civil Rights Restoration Act took effect, Title IX was off the table to female athletes seeking redress for discrimination.

In the end, the injunction the Blair plaintiffs won against WSU on state law grounds motivated the school to become the first to satisfy Title IX's proportionality prong. In that regard, the case was a state ERA decision but also a Title IX success story.

So does it matter that Title IX is mistakenly credited as the legal grounds for the plaintiffs' victory? Perhaps. Many people believe that Title IX has been around for 30+ years, women are as interested in sports as they are ever going to be, so the statute has done its job and can be retired. So its important to speak accurately about Title IX's early history because the truth is that Title IX has only effectively offered protection to female athletes for a relatively short time.

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