503 U.S. 60 (1991), Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools

Citation:503 U.S. 60, 112 S.Ct. 1028, 117 L.Ed.2d 208, 60 U.S.L.W. 4167
Party Name:Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools
Case Date:February 26, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court

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503 U.S. 60 (1991)

112 S.Ct. 1028, 117 L.Ed.2d 208, 60 U.S.L.W. 4167



Gwinnett County Public Schools

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 26, 1992




Petitioner Franklin, a student in a high school operated by respondent school district, filed an action for damages in Federal District Court under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging, inter alia, that she had been subjected to continual sexual harassment and abuse by a teacher, Andrew Hill. After the complaint was filed, Hill resigned on the condition that all matters pending against him be dropped, and the school thereupon closed its investigation. The District Court subsequently dismissed the complaint on the ground that Title IX does not authorize an award of damages, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A damages remedy is available for an action brought to enforce Title IX. Pp. 65-76.

(a) Title IX is enforceable through an implied right of action. Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677. P. 65.

(b) The longstanding general rule is that, absent clear direction to the contrary by Congress, the federal courts have the power to award any appropriate relief in a cognizable cause of action brought pursuant to a federal statute. See, e.g., Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684; Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 246-247. Pp. 65-68.

(c) This Court's adherence to the general rule has not eroded since Bell. See, e.g., J.I. Case Co. v. Borak, 377 U.S. 426, 433-435. In declaring that

the question of who may enforce a statutory right is fundamentally different from the question of who may enforce a [constitutionally protected] right,

Davis, 442 U.S. at 241, was not limiting the traditional presumption in favor of all appropriate relief to actions claiming constitutional violations. Rather, it was merely attempting to decide whether a litigant had a "cause of action," a question that is analytically distinct from, and prior to, the one at issue: what relief, if any, a litigant is entitled to receive, see id. at 239. Nor did Guardians Assn. v. Civil Service Comm'n of New York City, 463 U.S. 582, and Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Darrone, 465 U.S. 624, erode the traditional presumption. In fact, those cases support it, since a clear majority in Guardians expressed the view that damages were available in an action seeking remedies for an intentional violation of a statute closely analogous to Title IX, while a unanimous Court in Darrone held that another such statute authorized the award of backpay. Pp. 68-71.

(d) Congress did not intend to limit the remedies available in a Title IX suit. Because the Cannon Court inferred a cause of action upon concluding that Title IX supported no express right of action, the silence of the pre-Cannon statutory text and legislative history on the issue of available remedies is neither surprising nor enlightening. Rather, the appropriate inquiry for the pre-Cannon period is the state of the law when Congress passed Title IX. Since, at that time, the traditional presumption in favor of all available remedies was firmly established, and this Court had recently found implied rights of action in six cases and approved a damages remedy in three of them, the lack of any legislative intent to abandon the traditional presumption is amply demonstrated. For the post-Cannon period, when Congress was legislating with full cognizance of that decision, analysis of the text and history of the two statutes enacted to amend Title IX -- the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Amendment of 1986 and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 -- establishes that Congress validated Cannon's holding and made no effort to alter the traditional presumption. Pp. 71-73.

(e) The argument that a damages award would unduly expand the federal courts' power into a sphere properly reserved to the Executive and Legislative Branches in violation of separation of powers principles misconceives the difference between a cause of action and a remedy. Unlike the finding of a cause of action, which authorizes a court to hear a case or controversy, the discretion to award appropriate relief involves no such increase in judicial power and, in fact, historically has been thought necessary to provide an important safeguard against legislative and executive abuses and to insure an independent judiciary. Moreover, selective adjudication of the sort advocated here would harm separation of powers by giving judges the power to render inutile causes of action authorized by Congress through a decision that no remedy is available. Pp. 73-74.

(f) Also rejected is the contention that the normal presumption in favor of all appropriate remedies should not apply because Title IX was enacted pursuant to Congress' Spending Clause power. The Court's observation in Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 28-29, that remedies are limited under Spending Clause statutes when the alleged violation is unintentional is based on the theory that an entity receiving federal funds lacks notice that it will be liable for damages for such a violation, see id. at 17. This notice problem does not arise in a case such as the present, where intentional discrimination is alleged and is proscribed by the statute in question. Moreover, the notion that Spending Clause statutes do not authorize monetary awards for intentional violations is belied by the unanimous holding in Darrone, supra, 465 U.S. at 628. P. 74-75.

(g) The assertion that Title IX remedies should nevertheless be limited to backpay and prospective relief diverges from this Court's traditional approach to deciding what remedies are available for violation of a federal right. Both suggested remedies are equitable in nature, and it is axiomatic that a court should determine the adequacy of damages at law before resorting to equitable relief. Moreover, both suggested remedies are clearly inadequate in that they would [112 S.Ct. 1031] provide Franklin no relief: backpay because she was a student when the alleged discrimination occurred, and prospective relief because she no longer attends school in respondent system, and Hill no longer teaches there. Pp. 75-76.

911 F.2d 617 (CA11 1985), reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and THOMAS, J., joined, post, p. 76.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the implied right of action under Title IX of the Education Amendments of

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1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688 (Title IX),[1] which this Court recognized in Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677 (1979), supports a claim for monetary damages.


Petitioner Christine Franklin was a student at North Gwinnett High School in Gwinnett County, Georgia, between September, 1985, and August, 1989. Respondent Gwinnett County School District operates the high school and receives federal funds. According to the complaint filed on December 29, 1988, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Franklin was subjected to continual sexual harassment beginning in the autumn of her tenth grade year (1986) from Andrew Hill, a sports coach and teacher employed by the district. Among other allegations, Franklin avers that Hill engaged her in sexually-oriented conversations in which he asked about her sexual experiences with her boyfriend and whether she would consider having sexual intercourse with an older man, Complaint ¶ 10; First Amended Complaint, Exh. A, p 3;[2] that Hill forcibly kissed her on the mouth in the school parking lot, Complaint ¶ 17; that he telephoned her at her home and asked if she would meet him socially, Complaint ¶ 21; First Amended Complaint, Exh. A, pp. 4-5; and that, on three occasions in her junior year, Hill interrupted a class, requested that the teacher excuse Franklin, and took her to a private office where he subjected her to coercive intercourse. Complaint ¶¶ 25, 27, 32. The complaint further alleges that, though

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they became aware of and investigated Hill's sexual harassment of Franklin and other female students, teachers and administrators took no action to halt it, and discouraged Franklin from pressing charges against Hill. Complaint ¶¶ 23, 24, 35. On April 14, 1988, Hill resigned on the condition that all matters pending against him be dropped. Complaint ¶¶ 36, 37. The school thereupon closed its investigation. Complaint ¶ 37.

In this action,[3] the District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that [112 S.Ct. 1032] Title IX does not authorize an award of damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Franklin v. Gwinnett Cty. Public Schools, 911 F.2d 617 (CA11 1990). The court noted that analysis of Title IX and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq. (Title VI), has developed along similar lines. Citing as binding precedent Drayden v. Needville Independent School Dist., 642 F.2d 129 (CA5 1981), a decision rendered prior to the division of the Fifth Circuit, the court concluded that Title VI did not support a claim for monetary damages. The court then analyzed this Court's decision in Guardians Assn. v. Civil Service Comm'n of New York City, 463 U.S. 582 (1983), to determine whether it implicitly overruled Drayden. The court stated that the absence of a majority opinion left unresolved the question whether a court could award such relief upon a showing of intentional discrimination. As a second basis for its holding that monetary damages were unavailable, the court reasoned that Title IX was enacted under Congress' Spending Clause powers, and that,

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[u]nder such statutes, relief may frequently be limited to that...

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