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Cannon v. University of Chicago

decided: May 6, 1981.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 75 C 2724 -- Julius J. Hoffman, Judge.

Before Pell, Circuit Judge, Skelton, Senior Judge,*fn* and Wood, Circuit Judge.

Author: Pell

Plaintiff-appellant Geraldine G. Cannon comes before this court for a third time in her effort to gain admission to the defendants' medical schools. She was denied admission for the 1975 academic year and has been involved in litigation over the denials at all levels of the federal judiciary since that time. In her complaints, appellant claimed that the defendants' failure to admit her violated the age and sex discrimination prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and Illinois law, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 48 § 881 et seq. The Title IX allegations are the only viable allegations remaining. Initially, the defendants moved to dismiss those allegations pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the ground that no private right of action existed under Title IX. The district court granted these motions, 406 F. Supp. 1257 (N.D.Ill.1976), and this court affirmed, 559 F.2d 1063 (7th Cir. 1976). After reviewing the case upon a petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that a private right of action was implied under Title IX. 441 U.S. 677, 99 S. Ct. 1946, 60 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979). Upon remand to the district court, 605 F.2d 560 (7th Cir.), the defendants filed renewed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss the complaints, this time on the ground that Title IX prohibits only intentional discrimination and that appellant had failed to allege such purposeful conduct by the defendants in her complaints. Following the denial of appellant's motion for a preliminary injunction which was affirmed by this court, the district court granted defendants' renewed motions to dismiss and denied appellant's cross-motions to strike. Appellant's present appeal is from those orders.


The factual background of this case has been set forth in the earlier opinions of the district court and this court. A short repetition, however, may be of some assistance.

The present appellees, Northwestern University Medical School and the Pritzker School of Medicine at The University of Chicago, were two of the ten medical schools to which appellant unsuccessfully applied in 1975. Her undergraduate grade point average (GPA) in science and math related courses was 3.17 of a possible 4.00. The average GPA in these courses of the accepted applicants at the Pritzker School was 3.70 and at least 50% of all applicants to Northwestern had higher GPAs than appellant. On the science portion of the medical college admission test, appellant scored in the lower half of the applicant group to the defendant schools. On the quantitative portion of the test, she scored in the bottom half of the applicants to Northwestern and in the bottom 20% of the applicants to the University of Chicago.

In 1975, only 110 of over 6700 applicants were accepted at Northwestern while only 104 of 5427 applicants were accepted at Chicago. The Dean of the Pritzker School stated in an affidavit that at least 2000 applicants with better academic qualifications than appellant were rejected. At Northwestern, only seven applicants with lower academic qualifications were admitted: five blacks and two women. During the period from 1971 to 1975, 18.1% of the applicants to the Pritzker School were women while 18.3% of the entering classes were women, and 2.2% of all women applicants were admitted while 2.1% of all male applicants were admitted.

Appellant's suits, which were consolidated in the district court's dismissal, are based upon the admission policies of the defendant schools which in 1975 either discouraged individuals over the age of 30 from applying, or, in the case of Northwestern, prohibited the admission of any applicant over the age of 35 who did not possess an advance academic degree. At the time of her application, appellant was 39 years old and had no such degrees. She asserts that because women historically interrupt their higher education to pursue a family and other domestic responsibilities more often than men, these age policies disparately affected women. Appellant claims that the defendants' age policies therefore resulted in sexual discrimination violative of Title IX.*fn1


Before we proceed to discuss the central issue on this appeal, that is, whether Title IX incorporates an intentional discrimination test or a disparate impact test, we must first address appellant's argument that the Supreme Court decided finally the issue before us now in its previous decision in this case. Appellant asserts that because the Court reversed the prior dismissal of her complaints granted on the ground that she failed to state a claim, the Court implicitly found her complaints to be adequate for the purposes of all further Rule 12(b)(6) motions.

This contention may quickly be dismissed. The only issue before the Supreme Court on the prior appeal in this case was whether Title IX implied a private right of action. The Court did not consider any other potential ground for dismissal of appellant's complaints in its opinion. This was made clear in the opinion of Justice Stevens for the Court:

Accepting the truth of (appellant's) allegations for the purposes of its decision, the Court of Appeals held that petitioner has no right of action against respondents that may be asserted in the federal court. 559 F.2d 1063. We granted certiorari to review that holding. 438 U.S. 914, 98 S. Ct. 3142, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1159.

Cannon v. The University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 680, 99 S. Ct. 1946, 1949, 60 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1980) (footnote omitted). The fact that the Supreme Court and this court assumed arguendo the sufficiency otherwise of appellant's complaints for the purposes of the prior appeal does not disallow the appellees' attack on those assumptions here.


Addressing the merits of the district court's opinion, we note that the Supreme Court in Cannon indicated that we should look to Title VI for guidance regarding the proper interpretation of Title IX.*fn2 441 U.S. at 694-96, 99 S. Ct. at 1956-57. Looking to Title VI, it appears that in the past it has been assumed to apply the disparate impact test. This was the result of the Supreme Court's action in Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563, 94 S. Ct. 786, 39 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1974), upholding certain regulations promulgated by HEW under Title VI. The regulations provided that school systems receiving federal financial assistance "may not utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination," or have "the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the programs as respects individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin." 414 U.S. at 568, 94 S. Ct. at 789, quoting 45 C.F.R. § 80.3(b)(2). In the opinion by Justice Douglas, the Court noted that the defendant school district had "contractually agreed to "comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all requirements imposed by or pursuant to the Regulation' of HEW (45 C.F.R. Part 80) which are "issued pursuant to that title ,' " 414 U.S. at 568-69, 94 S. Ct. at 789, and concluded ...

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