Cannon v. University of Chicago,
441 U.S. 677 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677 (1979)

Cannon v. University of Chicago

No. 77-926.

Argued January 9, 1979

Decided May 14, 1979

441 U.S. 677


Section 901(a) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) provides in part that

"[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Petitioner instituted litigation in Federal District Court, alleging that she had been excluded from participation in the medical education programs of respondent private universities on the basis of her gender and that these programs were receiving federal financial assistance at the time of her exclusion. The District Court granted respondents' motions to dismiss the complaints, since Title IX does not expressly authorize a private right of action by a person injured by a violation of § 901, and since the court concluded that no private remedy should be inferred. The Court of Appeals agreed that the statute did not contain an implied private remedy. It concluded, inter alia, that Congress intended the remedy in § 902 of Title IX, establishing a procedure for the termination of federal financial support for institutions that violated § 901, to be the exclusive means of enforcement, and that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, upon which Title IX was patterned, did not include an implied private cause of action.

Held: Petitioner may maintain her lawsuit, despite the absence of any express authorization for it in Title IX. Pp. 441 U. S. 688-717.

(a) Before concluding that Congress intended to make a remedy available to a special class of litigants, a court must carefully analyze the following four factors that Cort v. Ash, 422 U. S. 66, identifies as indicative of such an intent: (1) whether the statute was enacted for the benefit of a special class of which the plaintiff is a member, (2) whether there is any indication of legislative intent to create a private remedy, (3) whether implication of such a remedy is consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme, and (4) whether implying a federal remedy is inappropriate because the subject matter involves an area basically of concern to the States. P. 441 U. S. 688.

(b) The first factor is satisfied here since Title IX explicitly confers a benefit on persons discriminated against on the basis of sex, and petitioner

Page 441 U. S. 678

is clearly a member of that class for whose special benefit the statute was enacted. Pp. 441 U. S. 689-694.

(c) As to the second factor, the legislative history of Title IX rather plainly indicates that Congress intended to create a private cause of action. Title IX was patterned after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the drafters of Title IX explicitly assumed that it would be interpreted and enforced in the same manner as Title VI, which had already been construed by lower federal courts as creating a private remedy when Title IX was enacted. Pp. 441 U. S. 694-703.

(d) The third factor is satisfied, since implication of a private remedy will not frustrate the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme but, instead, will assist in achieving the statutory purpose of providing individual citizens effective protection against discriminatory practices. Pp. 441 U. S. 703-708.

(e) As to the fourth factor, since the Civil War, the Federal Government and the federal courts have been the primary and powerful reliances in protecting citizens against invidious discrimination of any sort, including that on the basis of sex. Moreover, it is the expenditure of federal funds that provides the justification for this particular statutory prohibition. Pp. 441 U. S. 708-709.

(f) Respondents' principal argument against implying a cause of action under Title IX -- that it is unwise to subject admissions decisions of universities to judicial scrutiny at the behest of disappointed applicants on a case-by-case basis because this kind of litigation is burdensome, and inevitably will have an adverse effect on the independence of members of university committees -- is without merit. The congressional majorities that passed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX rejected the same argument when advanced by the congressional opponents of the two statutes, and there is nothing to demonstrate that private Title VI litigation has been so costly or voluminous that either the academic community or the courts have been unduly burdened, or that university administrators will be so concerned about the risk of litigation that they will fail to discharge their important responsibilities in an independent and professional manner. Pp. 441 U. S. 709-710.

(g) Nor is there any merit to respondents' arguments, starting from the premise that Title IX and Title VI should receive the same construction, that a comparison of Title VI with other titles of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrates that Congress created express private remedies whenever it found them desirable, and that certain excerpts from the legislative history of Title VI foreclose the implication of a private remedy. The fact that other provisions of a complex statutory scheme create express remedies has not been accepted as a sufficient

Page 441 U. S. 679

reason, by itself, for refusing to imply an otherwise appropriate remedy under a separate section, and none of the excerpts from the legislative history cited by respondents evidences any hostility toward an implied private remedy for terminating the offending discrimination. Pp. 441 U. S. 710-716.

559 F.2d 1063, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 717. BURGER, C.J., concurred in the judgment. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 718. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 441 U. S. 730.

Page 441 U. S. 680

Primary Holding

Evidence that Congress intended to create a remedy for a violation of federal law allows a court to find an implied remedy.


After she was refused admission to the University of Chicago medical school, Cannon sued under Title IX to compel her admission. She argued that the medical school was covered by the law because it received federal funds and that she had been denied because of her gender. Title IX prevented educational programs that received federal funds from excluding participants based on their gender, but it did not provide express authorization for a private cause of action. The University of Chicago thus argued that Cannon had failed to state a claim, and her case was dismissed.



  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

There are four main factors to consider in an inquiry as to whether Congress intended to create an implied remedy. These are whether the law was created to benefit a particular group of which the plaintiff is a member, whether the legislative history forecloses the possibility that Congress meant to create a private cause of action, whether an implied remedy would frustrate the underlying purpose of the law, and whether the federal remedy would infringe on the state police power. All of these factors weigh in favor of finding an implied private remedy under this law, which was intended to protect women.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Potter Stewart

Congress rather than the courts generally should have the authority to determine whether a cause of action exists. Courts should infer an implied cause of action only in limited circumstances.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)

There should be no implied private right of action because Congress knows how to create it if it sees fit. The legislature rather than the courts should be able to decide whether a private right of action exists under Article III of the Constitution. Courts violate the separation of powers by venturing outside the proper scope of their role in inferring a remedy. Historically, implied rights of action were inferred only in rare circumstances, such as when a statute was precatory because it lacked alternative enforcement mechanisms. The majority's four-factor test gives courts too much discretion in inferring a private cause of action.


  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

Case Commentary

More recent decisions have drifted away from this viewpoint as the Court has grown reluctant to imply remedies for statutory violations when Congress has not provided them.

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