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Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination By Educational Institutions

Numerous state-operated or publicly operated or supported educational institutions have limited enrollment to one sex. The Supreme Court first addressed whether such limitations on enrollment constituted sex discrimination in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 102 S. Ct. 3331, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1090 (1982). The Court voted 5 to 4 to require the Mississippi University for Women to admit a male student to its nursing school. In defending its refusal to admit Joe Hogan, the school argued that having a school solely for women compensated for sex discrimination in the past and that the presence of men would detract from the performance of female students.

Writing for the majority, Justice SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR rejected both of the school's arguments. O'Connor rejected the "compensation" argument as contrived since the school had made no showing that women had historically lacked opportunities in the field of nursing. As for the concern that the presence of men would hurt the performance of female students, O'Connor pointed out that the school had been willing to admit Hogan to classes on a noncredit basis. In the Court's view, the principal effect of the female-only nursing program was to "perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively woman's job."

In 1996 the Supreme Court again addressed the issue of educational sex discrimination in the highly publicized case of UNITED STATES V. VIRGINIA, U.S., 116 S. Ct. 2264, 135 L. Ed. 2d 735. The Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a publicly funded military college, must give up its all-male enrollment policy and admit women. The all-male policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lower federal courts had upheld the VMI admission policy, basing their decision on the need to preserve the "VMI experience," a physically and emotionally demanding military regimen that has remained the same since the early nineteenth century. Co-education would prevent both men and women from undergoing the "VMI experience" and would distract the male cadets. During the litigation the state of Virginia proposed the establishment of a parallel program for women, called the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL), with VMI remaining an all-male institution.

The Supreme Court rejected the arguments advanced by the courts below. Justice RUTH BADER GINSBURG, writing for the majority, stated that "Neither the goal of producing citizen-soldiers nor VMI's implementing methodology is inherently unsuitable to women." Ginsburg rejected Virginia's contention that single-sex education yields such important educational benefits that it justified the exclusion of women from VMI. The generalizations about the differences between men and women that the state offered to justify the exclusion of women were suspect. According to Ginsburg, the generalizations were too broad and stereotypical, with the result that predictions about the downgrading of VMI's stature if women were admitted were no more than self-fulfilling prophecies. The categorical exclusion of women from VMI denied equal protection to women.

The Court was also unimpressed with the creation of the VWIL as a remedy for the constitutional violation of equal protection. Justice Ginsburg noted numerous deficiencies, pointing out that VWIL afforded women no opportunity to "experience the rigorous military training for which VMI is famed."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Secretary to SHAsSex Discrimination - Historical Background, Sex Discrimination And Title Vii: An Unusual Political Alliance, Sex Discrimination Laws