Eve Atkinson sued Lafayette College in 2001, arguing that the college terminated her from the athletic director position, which she had held since 1989, in retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of women’s athletics and Title IX. A federal court initially dismissed her lawsuit on the grounds that Title IX’s private right of action did not cover retaliation claims. Her appeal was stayed pending the Supreme Court’s eventual decision in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education allowing for private enforcement of Title IX retaliation claims, so the Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and reinstated Atkinson’s case. Lafayette then moved for summary judgment, arguing that Atkinson did not allege sufficient evidence to support a retaliation claim. Earlier this month, the district court agreed, and again dismissed Atkinson’s case against the college.
In particular, the district court determined that Atkinson had not sufficiently alleged that she engaged in protected conduct, the first element of a retaliation claim, because all of her advocacy for gender equity advocacy was done in her capacity as Athletic Director. However, I believe that in requiring a Title IX retaliation plaintiff to be targetted for conduct outside her job duties in order to receive the protection of law, the district court imposes a new and unwarranted requirement that is inconsistent with other Title IX retaliation decisions, including Jackson. Moreover, if it is the case that the college terminated her because of her Title IX advocacy (the district court thinks Atkinson’s fails on this element as well) then it should not matter at all whether she was acting against or in accord with her role as the athletic director. I hope that an appeal gives the Third Circuit an opportunity to clarify this legal issue.
Decision: Atkinson v. Lafayette College, 2009 WL 2949295 (E.D. Pa. 2009).