Some women lawyers at the Justice Department feel they have been discriminated against in competition for promotions to better jobs. They have filed a suit.
Two Langley High School students said they were discriminated against when they were barred from playing on the Fairfax school's tennis team because they had competed in an amateur tournament. They sued the Virginia High School League to get rein stated.
A Loudoun County high school senior pushed a chocolate cream pie in the face of one of her teachers as joke last spring and was barred from attending her graduation. She, too, sued, claiming that school officials didn't give her proper hearings before she was punished.
Twenty years ago, most discrimination cases involved the civil rights of blacks in their fight for basic human rights. Now everyone, or so it seems, is alleging that they are being discriminated against. But they don't turn to the streets to seek justice. They file a lawsuit.
Today the ranks of those who feel they are discriminated against includes whites, school children who want to write about birth control and poor adults who cannot afford it, teachers who say they cannot properly punish pupils, police, prisoners, women who are fired and men who don't get hired or admitted to colleges.
More and different kinds of discrimination claims have cropped up here and in federal couts across the country, especially in the last 10 years. They have left some legal experts wondering: If everyone says they're discriminated against, what then is discrimination?
The new discrimination cases, many of which would have been unheard of 10, 15 or 20 years ago, are the result as well as the cause of a plethora oflegislation since the 1960s protecting different races, people of all ages, both sexes, people with all sorts of handicaps, jobs and opportinities.
"I'm old enough to know," said 75-year-old U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis during a discrimination hearing in Alexandria. "When I first came on the bench (in 1960) I never had a discrimination case. Now that's almost all you have."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger noted in a speech last spring that the number of civil rights cases, not just those involving race, multiplied 10-fold in the 94 U.S. District Courts between 1969 and last year.
Since 1964, more than 50 statutes and executive orders covering specific kinds of discrimination have been added to the federal books, according to John Rhinelander, former general counsel for the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare and Housing and Urban Development.
"The volume and nature" of discrimination cases "have magnified hundreds of times over," Rhinelander said.
Legal experts agree that the recent kinds of discrimination cases were generated by publicity stemming from the social activism of the 1960s. Rather than wait for legislation to protect their rights, housewives, prisoners, women and others have taken their cases to court, said A.E. Dick Howard, a professor of law at the University of Virginia.
"Any group that didn't get what they wanted through social action went through the court," Howard said. "Lawyers and judges began getting used to the fact that the courts were the solution to social problems."
Most lawyers wouldn't touch a civil rights case during the 1960s because most of those seeking help were poor. Thus their cases were not economically profitable, according to civil rights attorney Philip J. Hirschkop. But recently Congress passed a law in which lawyers who win civil rights cases can collect their legal fees from the defendant Hirschkop said.
Now there are more lawyers specializing in civil rights law and law schools across the country are teaching it, Hirschkop said.
A classic case of the new discrimination that Washington area lawyers point to is that of two Fairfax County high school students who sued the county school system so they could print an article on birth control in the high school newspaper.
The students said their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression were violated and they were treated unfairly because they were not adults. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
"Who would have thought 15 years ago high school students would have the constitutional right to print what they want in a high school newspaper?" Howard asked.
The Loudoun high school student who sued the school system after she pushed a chocolate cream pie into the face of one of her teachers admitted she was wrong in the incident. She lost her suit claiming she didn't get a proper hearing from school officals and did not get to attend her graduation.
"Until 1961, no federal court had ruled in favor of due process in schools or colleges," Howard said. Although the Loudoun girl lost her case, many other students elsewhere who were expelled for long hair, wearing blue jeans or no shoes at other schools have won.
"The Constitution is being used in areas that 20 years ago would have been unheard of," Howard said. "We (Americans) make a court case out of everything."
As a result of the cases, judges are now forming public policy and controlling public funds. Because of the types of cases they now receive, judges often decide how to run state hospitals, local schools, private companies, prisons and other institutions, as well as how to treat to treat the handwell as how to treat the handicapped, the aged and students.
The number of age discrimination cases received by the Department of Labor in the last five years has increased six-fold, according to Lauren Selden, chairman of the Northern Virginia chapter of the ACLU. Five years ago there were about 1,000 complaints, Selden said. Now there are 6,000.
The same goes for inmates alleging discrimination in prisons. This type of case has increased from 2,000 nationwide in 1960 to 19,000 last year, according to Chief Justice Burger.
"It takes a while to educate people how to pursue these problems," Selden said, "how to fight back, to resist. Now there are ways to resist it (discrimination) and help."
An FBI agent is even suing the FBI because he said his rights were violated when he was transferred and censured for allegedly living with a woman out of wedlock.
While legal experts say they expect the trend toward more and different kinds of discrimination cases to flourish, a problem arises in determining "what is discrimination, what is illegal," Hirschkop said.
"Some things are crassly discriminating," Hirschkop said, "like telling women they can't vote."
Other instances, like when pregnant women are told they must leave their jobs at a certain point in their pregnacy, "are not so clear cut," Hischkop said.
If the sexes are to be given equal treatment, then perhaps third-grade boys and girls should use the same toilet facilities, Hirschkop said, hypotnetically. "Parents would be up in arms." Yet, under recent federal law, girls and boys cannot be segregated when playing in school activities.
"There is an insufficient effort to define what is forbidden and what is permitted," Rhinelander said. "There's such a plethora of ill-defined, underfined laws, a gap, a confusing state of the law."
As an example, Hirshkop cites the 14th Amendment, which was primarily used in civil rights cases before the 1960s and is still used today. The amendment states that citizens cannot be deprived of their "life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person . . . the "equal protection of the laws."
"It took 100 years to figure out a lot of it," Hirsnkop said. "What does it mean? What is discrimination? What is legal?"
Many cases will just have to be decided on their individual merits Hirschkop said. Others may be cleared up by new legislation or executive orders.
"I suppose it's part of trend of the times," University of Virginia Law School Dean Emerson Sties said of the discrimination cases. "There's a strong national policy to do away with discrimination before. They just don't accept it now."