Orthodox Yale Four to appeal judges dismissal of suit

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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (JTA) — A U.S. District Court judge in Hartford has determined that Yale University's policy requiring some students to live in coed dormitories does not violate federal housing and antitrust laws.

Judge Alfred V. Covello ruled late last month in favor of Yale's motion to dismiss the case — brought against Yale last year by four Orthodox Jewish students.

The judge decided that the plaintiffs' lawyers did not prove, among other things, that the private university should be held to civil rights laws normally applied to governmental agencies. Covello made no ruling on the allegations of religious discrimination.

The students, known as the "Yale Four," brought suit against the university alleging that dormitories that feature coed living conditions and bathrooms, as well as alleged sexual activity, are in violation of their Orthodox heritage and beliefs. The suit claims Yale requires that, in lieu of a housing waiver, freshmen and sophomores are required to live in university dormitories.

The initial suit was brought by five students until one of the students got married in a civil ceremony in order to escape the on-campus living requirement.

Covello ruled that the residence requirement did not violate federal housing or antitrust laws, but did not rule on whether the students' civil rights had been violated. The July 31 ruling was not made public until Friday of last week, when the students announced that they would appeal the ruling to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We are extremely pleased that the court has decided this suit," said Dorothy Robinson, Yale vice president and general counsel. "Yale College's residential requirement is premised on an educational philosophy which values bringing people of diverse backgrounds together in a vibrant community. Yale's rule does not conflict with any legal requirement."

Nathan Lewin, lead attorney for the students, said he never expected the suit to be determined in the District Court and that while the ruling is a disappointment, it is only a legal setback.

"We will appeal to the Court of Appeals," Lewin said. "And with all due respect to Judge Covello, the ruling is demonstrably wrong. I'm disappointed, but I never expected the case to be determined by a District Court judge."

According to Rick Garnett, associate counsel for the Yale Four, there are essentially three aspects to the suit, only two of which received official ruling.

First, the students allege that Yale violated the Fair Housing Act. Covello ruled that because Yale had offered housing, the students had no grounds on which to sue.

"The students could have opted to attend another university if they were not satisfied with Yale's housing policy," he wrote in his decision.

The students also contend that Yale's housing policy is in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, that Yale essentially holds a monopoly on the housing of its students and that it is illegal for the university to tie the purchase of one service with another–in this case, housing with education.

Garnett points to the recent court ruling barring computer giant Microsoft from continuing to tie a World Wide Web browser with its Windows 98 computer system.

The third motion on whether Yale had violated the students' civil rights was not considered because Covello determined that the Yale Four lawyers had not proven that Yale has sufficient links to government to be held accountable to the charges.

"We believe the judge erred in not reaching the merits of the students' religious discrimination and equal protection claims," said Lewin. "He also failed to recognize that, because of Yale's long history of state sponsorship, as well as its close cooperation with and funding by the government, civil rights law requires it to respect the constitutional rights of its students."

Likewise, the plaintiffs were not pleased with the judge's ruling.

"The dormitory arrangements at Yale run counter to my strongly held, constitutionally supported religious convictions," said Elisha Hack of New Haven, one of the students who filed the suit. "I am and want very much to be part of Yale, and I am eager to participate in and learn from the school's diversity, but I will not and should not be forced to compromise my religious tenets."

The other three plaintiffs in the suit are Jeremy A. Hershman of Cedarhurst, N.Y.; Lisa Friedman of Lawrence, N.Y.; and Batsheba Greer of New Haven. The latter is the daughter of Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Greer of the Yeshiva of New Haven who has given advice and counseling to the students.

Lewin said that he does not expect the Appeals Court to hear any motions until at least November, with a ruling not likely until March or April of 1999. He also said that he expects the case to eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.