Harvard Wins OCR Approval of Sexual Assault Policy

On April 1, 2003, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dismissed a complaint against Harvard University, which alleged that the university’s sexual assault policy violates Title IX. The policy requires students to provide evidence of sexual misconduct before administrators will investigate a charge. The complaint, filed by Boston attorney Wendy Murphy, charged that the policy discriminates against sexual assault victims — usually women — by closing their avenues for grievance. In ruling for Harvard, OCR observed that Harvard’s new procedures cannot be unlawful, since the law “does not prohibit the use of due process.”

Source: Miscellaneous press and wire reports (April, 2003)

We Harass, You Sue

Lisa Brescher,a hairstylist on Fox Sports Network’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period, has filed a sexual- harassment suit against cohost and former NBA player John Salley and others involved with the show. Brescher says that she “was subjected to an environment of unrestrained sexual harassment.” Fox says an investigation corroborated none of the claims, and that she’s a disgruntled employee out for money.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (May 3, 2001)

Is Obesity a Disability?

Remember the case of Jennifer Portnick, the overweight fitness buff who sued Jazzercise when it failed to hire her as an aerobics instructor? Ms. Portnick’s case was based on San Francisco’s unusual ‘short and fat’ law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of height and weight. Jazzercise settled that suit by agreeing to drop its requirement that instructors have a fit appearance. Now comes Joseph Connor, a 420-pound Connecticut man, who has sued McDonald’s for discriminating against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Mr. Connor alleges that McDonald’s refused to hire him because the company perceived him to be ‘morbidly obese.’ He claims that his obesity is a disability and that the restaurant chain discriminated against him because of this disability. Although McDonald’s sought to dismiss the case on the grounds that Connor is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, a federal court refused to dismiss the lawsuit, concluding that Connor should be allowed the opportunity to prove his allegations of discrimination.

Source: Associated Press via Center for Individual Freedon, www.cfif.org (posted April 25, 2003)

Gender Equity on the Courts?

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) recently signed a collective bargaining agreement with its players after months of tense negotiations. The WNBA hailed the new agreement as the first to offer free agency to female professional athletes, and women’s sports enthusiasts hailed it for saving the league while it struggles to grow and become profitable. Nevertheless, some WNBA players have complained that the agreement is inadequate compared to the agreement in place for male basketball players. Representatives of the WNBA dispute this charge, noting that the two leagues are not comparable because the men’s salaries are based on a percentage of profits. The six-year-old WNBA has yet to turn a profit and the National Basketball Association is subsidizing its sister organization with $12 million this year.

Source: Women’s E-News, www.womensenews.org (April 29, 2003)

Florida Court Affirms Birth Mothers’ Right to Privacy

A Florida court has struck down what detractors have called the ”Scarlet Letter” law, which required birth mothers who want to give a child up for adoption to publicize their sexual histories in newspaper ads. The law was intended to give men who believe they could have fathered a child the opportunity to come forward and protect his parental rights. But it came under heavy criticism because it required all mothers, including rape victims and underage girls, to publish potentially embarrassing and invasive information to widespread audiences. The court said the law ”violates a fundamental right to privacy” and ”substantially interferes” with a woman’s independence in choosing adoption and the right not to disclose intimate personal information. The court said the state failed to show how the rights of the father or the state could outweigh “the privacy rights of mother and child in not being identified in such a personal, intimate and intrusive manner.”

Source: MiamiHerald.com (April 24, 2003)