In approximately 1984, women prisoners in Oregon's one prison for women initiated a class action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. They alleged unlawful sex discrimination by state prison officials (the defendants) in six of the prison system's educational and vocational training programs: prison industries, a forest camp, a farm annex, apprenticeships, vocational programs, and college courses. Their complaint claimed the discrimination violated Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. and the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. Oregon operated six prison facilities, one of which was for women and the remaining five for men. The numbers and types of vocational programs differed for men and women prisoners and, while women could be taken to one of the men's prisons to attend certain classes that were only offered there, the women were subjected to searches and to delays that men were not. Additionally, women were excluded entirely from participation in the mechanical trade apprenticeship programs available to men prisoners and did not receive pay which men received while participating in certain vocational programs.
In 1986, the district court conducted a non-jury trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Hogan. He ruled against the plaintiffs on all but one of their claims; however, his ruling was reversed on procedural grounds by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Jeldness v. Watson, 857 F.2d 1478 (9th Cir. 1988) (unpublished table decision). The case was remanded for further proceedings in the district court.
There, in ruling on the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the district court held (1) that gender based classifications reasonably related to legitimate penological interests do not violate the equal protection clause; (2) in a prison context, Title IX requires gender "parity" rather than "equality" or "identity" of treatment; (3) a showing of discriminatory intent is not needed for plaintiffs to prevail under Title IX regulations; and (4) "penological necessity" is a complete defense to gender based disparate impact under Title IX. (Neither the date of, nor the name of the judge making, these summary judgment rulings appear in documents in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database.) The district court applied these standards and entered partial summary judgment for the defendants and, then, conducted a non-jury trial. The trial resulted in judgment for defendants on all but one of plaintiffs' claims.
The district court ruled that defendants had violated Title IX regulations by paying men, but not women, for vocational training. Based on this finding, the district court also awarded attorney's fees to plaintiffs. As to the other programs, however, the court found that disparities in treatment and opportunities for men and women prisoners were justified by custody status, market forces, separate housing requirements, supervision and security concerns--"legitimate penological necessity," in most circumstances.
Plaintiffs again appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Defendants cross-appealed from the district court's holding that plaintiffs were not required to prove discriminatory intent in order to establish a violation of the Title IX regulations and the related award of attorney's fees.
On July 28, 1994, a panel of the appellate court reversed the district court in part, affirmed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Jeldness v. Pearce, 30 F.3d 1220 (9th Cir. 1994) (District Judge Charles A. Legge, N.D. CA., sitting by designation). The panel opinion held that the requirements of Title IX apply to educational programs in state prisons which receive federal financial assistance, based on the plain language of the statute, the case law, and legislative history. Whether the farm annex, forest work camp or prison industries programs were "educational" programs within the meaning of Title IX remained a factual issue to be resolved by the district court on remand. Oregon's state prisons received federal funds and would have to comply with the regulations implementing Title IX but, Judge Legge noted, application of the regulations would have to be consistent with the basic needs of prisons and the bona fide reasons for gender segregation in prisons. The appellate court rejected the view that "parity" of treatment, rather than equality of treatment, sufficed under Title IX in the prison context. Rather, because Title IX is not merely coextensive with the Equal Protection Clause but provides greater protection, Judge Legge ruled that prison educational programs must be "equally" available to male and female prisoners. The court recognized that "equality" in a prison setting does not require gender-integrated classes, facilities or housing and that special security concerns unaddressed in Title IX regulations, as well as differences in facility size, course demand, and site-specific, permitted differences in programs. The judge interpreted the Title IX regulations as calling for identical access for men and women prisoners to the same or equivalent classes, vocational programs and apprenticeships. Title IX required the state to make reasonable efforts to offer the same educational opportunities to women as to men. The panel stated that this did not mean offering programs identical in numbers or in content, but it did mean women must have reasonable opportunities for similar studies as are provided to men and an equal opportunity to participate in programs of comparable quality.
Continuing, the panel concluded that "penological necessity" was not a defense to conduct arguably violating Title IX. Rather, it was just one concern to be weighed with others in considering how Title IX's equality principles are to be applied in prisons. Another of the district court's standards was rejected by the appellate court when it observed that efficiency and cost effectiveness were not to be considered as security concerns but, instead, as management concerns to be applied consistently with Title IX. Judge Legge upheld the district court's findings that disparity in vocational pay constituted prohibited disparate treatment under Title IX and warranted the award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party.
We do not have further information on the status of this case.Mike Fagan - 05/02/2008