a white man in a suit speaks at a podium with the logo of the Louis D. Brandeis Center
Kenneth Marcus in 2017. (Photo/JTA-Facebook)

Kenneth Marcus steps down from Education Department under cloud of 2 complaints

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Kenneth Marcus will step down this week as head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under the cloud of two complaints that accuse him of promoting cases that further his personal and political agenda.

One of the complaints, filed in May with the department’s inspector general by nine civil rights groups, accuses Marcus of using his position to push through an issue close to him — recognizing Jewishness as a national origin and some forms of pro-Israel activity as protected under civil rights laws including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The complaint also claims that Marcus gave preferential treatment to the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, to which he has personal ties, when he reopened an investigation into an allegedly antisemitic incident at Rutgers University, The New York Times reported.

In reopening the Rutgers probe, Marcus employed the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which includes some types of anti-Israel activity, including holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions and likening that country’s actions to the Nazis. The definition, which has sparked controversy, was composed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

In January, a complaint filed by a former lawyer in the Office for Civil Rights said Marcus forced employees to investigate a policy that allowed transgender athletes in Connecticut to compete on female sports teams, despite department lawyers questioning whether the department had jurisdiction.

Dwayne Bensing, a former lawyer in the civil rights office, filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel that provided examples of how he said Marcus pressured the department to rush through a complaint filed in June 2019 by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom against the transgender athletes competing in the gender in which they identified.

Marcus was using the office to further the Trump administration’s rollback of transgender rights, Bensing said, according to The New York Times.

The Education Department told The Times that Marcus’ resignation was not connected to the complaints.

Marcus announced earlier this month that he would step down and return to private life. A day later he said he would become chairman of the board of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on Aug. 1. Marcus founded the center and served as its president before he was approved for the civil rights office position in June 2018.

Marcy Oster
Marcy Oster

Israel-based JTA correspondent


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