Supporters of Title IX hailed yesterday's opinion as a major statement by the court on equity between the sexes.
"This decision is a slam-dunk victory for everyone who cares about equal opportunity," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, who represented Jackson. "The court has confirmed that people cannot be punished for standing up for their rights. This protection is not just critical for Title IX, but also for other bedrock civil rights laws."
But opponents of Jackson's lawsuit warned that the court's ruling will open the door to more lawsuits, forcing school systems to divert resources to their legal departments that they should be using to bolster classroom instruction.
"Litigation is costly, and it does take up people's time and create animosity," said Julie Underwood, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, which represents all state school boards in the United States as well as about 15,000 local school boards.
Underwood said that the court's ruling would permit lawsuits for retaliation whether or not the whistleblower's charges of sex discrimination were true.
Those concerns were voiced in a dissenting opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy.
"Under the majority's reasoning," Thomas wrote, "courts may expand liability as they, rather than Congress, see fit. This is no idle worry. The next step is to say that someone closely associated with the complainer, who claims he suffered retaliation for his complaints, likewise has a retaliation claim under Title IX."
Jackson will now have the opportunity to present his case in a federal district court in Alabama, unless he reaches a settlement with the school board.
In 2003, he was given a new position as an interim basketball coach for the girls' team at Ensley High School in Birmingham.
"You can't separate the students from their teacher or coach," he told reporters yesterday. "Whatever conditions they had to undergo, I have to undergo, too."