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In Employment Discrimination Cases, Judge Rules that Title VII Does Not Supervene Title IX

The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – both of which prohibit sex-based discrimination – are separate enforcement mechanisms an individual may use to challenge sex-based employment discrimination in a federally-funded educational program.

In Harrington v. Lesley University, et al., plaintiff Miki Harrington brought claims against her former employer, Lesley University, and her former supervisor alleging sex-based discrimination under both Title VII and Title IX. The defendants moved to dismiss the Title IX claims on grounds that the comprehensive administrative scheme under Title VII pre-empted any private cause of action under Title IX.

The District Court found to the contrary, ruling that Title VII and Title IX are separate enforcement mechanisms, either or both of which is available to an individual challenged sex-based discrimination in a federally funded educational program.

The District Court explained that the Supreme Court has long held that an implied cause of action exists under Title XI for private litigants. The Court rejected the defendants’ argument that the only individuals with private causes of action are students or student-employees and that non-student employees did not have a private right of action. It found that the text of Title IX evidences no clear congressional intent to exclude employees of federally funded educational institutions from its protections.

The Court likewise rejected the defendants’ argument that allowing employment claims to proceed under Title IX – which allows for direct access to courts – would disrupt the enforcement scheme under Title VII – which requires a plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit. It noted that where there is a comprehensive statutory scheme to vindicate a protected right, such as that under Title VII, the Supreme Court has found that there is a presumption that the law in question is exclusive. However, that presumption would only apply to exclude Title IX if Title VII and Title IX were merely two remedies for the same right. If they are, instead, two separate rights addressing the same problem, then the presumption does not apply.

To determine whether the presumption would apply, the Court analyzed differences between Title VII and Title IX with respect to remedies, statutes of limitation, the legislative history, the source of Congress’s authority to enact each law, and the goals of the two laws. The Court found the differences to be significant and, accordingly, found that the laws afforded separate federal rights rather than being simply two separate remedies addressing the same harm.

The Court’s finding in this case is significant because the Court dismissed a number of the plaintiff’s Title VII claims as untimely as they were not brought within Title VII’s 300-day statutory limitations period.

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