Monday, December 08, 2008

High court hears sex-harassment lawsuit case

A Massachusetts girl's awful experience on a school bus is at the heart of a case argued in the Supreme Court Tuesday over limits on lawsuits about sex discrimination in education. The 5-year-old kindergarten student in Hyannis, Mass., told her parents that in 2000 a third-grade boy repeatedly made her lift her dress, pull down her underwear and spread her legs.

Local police and the school system investigated, but found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges or definitively sort out the story, according to court records. The district refused to assign the boy to another bus or put a monitor on the bus, records show.

Upset with the school district's response, parents Lisa and Robert Fitzgerald sued the district in federal court under both Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal money, and a provision of a Civil War era, anti-discrimination law that was designed to enforce the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. The issue for the court is whether Title IX, enacted in 1972, rules out suits under the older provision.

A federal judge ruled that the Fitzgeralds could not sue under the older law because Congress had subsequently passed Title IX. The Fitzgeralds also lost on their Title IX claims. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

The justices appeared skeptical of the idea that Congress, in legislation expanding protection from discrimination, would cut back on the ability to sue for violations of constitutional rights. But they also wondered whether the Fitzgeralds ultimately would win their lawsuit. "But in this case, as we get down to what this case is about, we have a determination by a court that the school district acted reasonably in relation to these complaints," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Justice John Paul Stevens said, "You may still lose the lawsuit even if you win here." Charles Rothfeld, representing the parents, agreed that the Fitzgeralds might lose, but said their constitutional claims should at least be heard in court.

Among the advantages of pursuing a lawsuit under both provisions is that the older one allows claims to be made against individuals, while Title IX is restricted to institutions. Plaintiffs also can be awarded punitive damages under the older law, but not under Title IX. A decision is expected by late spring. The case is Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, 07-1125.


Quiz for French state jobs is discriminatory says President Sarkozy

For would-be gendarmes, knowing one end of a truncheon from the other was never enough to get the job. To join the ranks of France's finest, one needed a solid grasp of the imperfect subjunctive. In a sign that French intellectual rigour is not what is was, however, the general knowledge test set for all members of the French civil service is to be made easier and given less weight in the application process. From next year secretaries will no longer be examined on their grasp of 17th-century literature, nor park wardens on the dates of the Jurassic Period.

President Sarkozy has decreed that the tests discriminated in favour of white young men with traditional French educations. "What is the point of a history examination for firemen or police constables with university degrees?" asked Andr‚ Santini, the Civil Service Minister, who signed a new charter against discrimination this week.

The competitive quiz has long been a rite of passage into the haven of a lifetime job in the police, government ministries, the post office and other branches of la fonction publique, which employs more than 20 per cent of all French workers. Last year 65,000 people, many with degrees, sat the test for a thousand posts as junior clerks. President Sarkozy's secretary failed to win an internal contest for a promotion because she did not know the author of La Princesse de Cleves, a 17th-century novel with a long disputed origin, the newspaper Le Figaro reported.

Mr Santini, a Paris politician, said that the general knowledge tests were "being used as a form of invisible discrimination". The new guidelines are part of a campaign by Mr Sarkozy to dismantle barriers that keep applicants from immigrant backgrounds and poor families out of the state apparatus. Mr Sarkozy has also ended the guaranteed access to plum state jobs for graduates of the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

Ivan Rioufol, the news editor at Le Figaro, said that a basic knowledge of history and culture was vital for civil servants. France was already illiterate enough, he wrote.


No comments: