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Orthodox woman’s lawsuit against social work school can go forward

Lady Justice

Courtesy of Tingey Injury Law Firm

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a suit against The City University of New York and its trustees filed by an Orthodox Jewish woman who claims that she was denied admission to the university’s social work school because of her religious background.

The applicant, Faigy Rachel Weiss of Brooklyn, plausibly alleges that university officials violated her rights, wrote Judge Vernon S. Broderick of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in a July 2 ruling.

Weiss, who is representing herself and could not be reached for comment, initially filed the lawsuit in 2017 after applying to the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, which is a part of New York City’s university system. The defendants asked that the case be dismissed.

But Broderick ruled that the case can go forward, and cited the alleged comments of John T. Rose, a Hunter College dean responsible for diversity issues. Weiss claims that Rose said that the school needed “to weed out conservatives because Trumps and Cruzes can’t be social workers” and that “Jews from religious backgrounds are too conservative to be social workers.” The lawsuit also names several other university officials as defendants, including Hunter College President Jennifer Raab.

A spokesperson for New York State Attorney General Letitia James, whose office is representing the defendants, referred requests for comment to the university. A university spokesperson, responding to an inquiry from the Forward, emailed: “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Broderick in his ruling emphasized that his reference to Rose’s alleged comments should not be taken to mean that the court has found them to be true. But if they are, he continued, they “sufficiently demonstrate a racially discriminatory intent or purpose in the admissions process to support a claim” for a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The defendants — according to the judge’s ruling — argued that considering Weiss’s religion and religious upbringing in the admissions process does not mean her rights were violated, and that Weiss herself had disclosed her religious background in a personal statement to the school. And though the school holds that Weiss failed to demonstrate that the school rejected her for the reasons she claims, it also argued that the school has the right to consider any information applicants present to make their cases for admission.

But Broderick rejected that argument, quoting the First Amendment, which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” A reasonable official would have known that disfavoring an applicant because she is Jewish would “fly in the face” of the Establishment Clause’s mandate that the government “must remain neutral toward religion,” he wrote.

Broderick required a response from the attorney general’s office within 21 days.

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