Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee

PETITIONER:Lisa Fitzgerald, et vir
RESPONDENT:Barnstable School Committee, et al.
LOCATION: Hyannis West Elementary School

DOCKET NO.: 07-1125
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jun 09, 2008
ARGUED: Dec 02, 2008
DECIDED: Jan 21, 2009

Charles A. Rothfeld – argued the cause for the petitioners
Kay H. Hodge – argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In February 2001 Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergarten student, told her parents that an older student on the school bus, on several occasions, bullied her into lifting up her skirt. Jacqueline’s mother reported these allegations to the school but its immediate investigation into the matter, including interviewing the supposed perpetrator, the school bus driver, and many students on the bus, did not provide any further proof of the sexual harassment. After Jacqueline told her parents about further instances of mistreatment, the local police department began its own investigation but was unable to find sufficient evidence to bring criminal proceedings against the alleged harasser. Jacqueline reported other incidents throughout the year, and each was addressed by the school’s principal as it occurred. In April of 2002 the Fitzgeralds brought suit against the school district in federal court alleging violations of both Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972 and 42 U.S.C. 1983 (Section 1983). Title IX prohibits discrimination by any educational entity receiving federal funding, while Section 1983 protects against the deprivation of any rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal laws. The district court granted the school district’s motion to dismiss both counts and the Fitzgeralds appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of both claims. First, discussing the Title IX claim, the court stated that five conditions must be met for a plaintiff to succeed: the student must prove that (1) the institution is a recipient of federal funding, (2) severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment occurred, (3) the harassment denied the student of educational opportunities or benefits, (4) the institution had actual knowledge of the harassment, and (5) the institution’s deliberate indifference caused the student to be subjected to the harassment. The First Circuit held that even if the first four factors were met in this case, the school’s “prompt” and “diligent” investigation was not clearly unreasonable and therefore did not amount to deliberate indifference. Rather, the school looked into each allegation quickly and thoroughly. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the Fitzgeralds’ Section 1983 claim, applying the so-called “remedial” exception prohibiting such claims when the allegedly violated federal law is itself specific enough to demonstrate Congress’ intention to allow only those remedies referred to in the statute itself. According to the First Circuit, Title IX is one of these remedial statutes and therefore any alleged violations of the statute cannot be litigated under Section 1983.


Is Title IX’s implied private remedy sufficiently comprehensive to preclude the use of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 to advance sex discrimination claims against federally funded educational institutions?

Media for Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 02, 2008 in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 21, 2009 in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

The second opinion is in Fitzgerald versus Barnstable School Committee 07-1125.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari from the First Circuit.

Petitioners sued the local school board and the superintendent alleging that the school’s response to allegations of peer-on-peer sexual harassment against their daughter was inappropriate.

Among others they raised claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and 42 U.S.C Section 1983.

The Court of Appeals held that the 1983 claims were precluded by Title IX and affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of those claims.

For reason set out in an opinion filed today, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceeding particularly in light of the nature of the Title IX remedial scheme.

We hold that there is insufficient evidence that Congress meant to preclude petitioners’ 1983 claims.

The opinion is unanimous.