Updated: Judge dismisses religious discrimination lawsuit against Northwestern in Chabad House disaffiliation
December 27, 2013 •
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Northwestern alleging religious discrimination in its 2012 disaffiliation with Tannenbaum Chabad House.
In a summary judgment filed Dec. 19, U.S. District Court Judge John Darrah said NU provided a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for cutting ties with Chabad House following reports that Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein served excessive amounts of alcohol to underage students.
On behalf of Klein, Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois sued the University in September 2012, accusing NU of singling out Chabad House while other campus organizations “committed the same acts” but faced lesser punishments than disaffiliation. In his opinion, Darrah disagreed with the claim, saying Chabad was “comparing apples to oranges” by pointing to fraternities and sororities guilty of underage drinking because NU has a different disciplinary system for them than it does for religious groups.
Darrah concluded the University’s reasons for disaffiliating with Chabad House were “genuine,” citing an NU official’s investigation looking into documentation of alcohol incidents at the house since 2001. The records included a police report involving an underage student who was taken to the hospital for an alcohol-related sickness after a Chabad House party, according to court documents.
A day after Klein announced the disaffiliation in September 2012, he told The Daily that students had been served wine and hard liquor at Chabad House during Shabbat dinners. However, he said he did not break any state laws, which allow people under the age of 21 to accept and consume alcohol during religious ceremonies. University policy does not make the same exemption.
University spokesman Al Cubbage said in a statement Friday morning that NU is pleased with the dismissal and reiterated the school maintains affiliations with other religious organizations on or near the campus.
Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, director of Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois, said Friday morning the group remains confident in its case and plans to appeal the the judge’s decision.
“We are very supportive of Rabbi Klein,” Moscowitz said, “and we think he does a great job and his being on campus is important for all of Northwestern University.”
R. Tamara de Silva, the attorney who represented Chabad House and Klein in the lawsuit, continued to criticize the disaffiliation, saying the University’s decision was “essentially based” on allegations made by a former student. The investigation came after the father of a 2012 graduate raised concerns about alcohol use at Chabad House, according to court documents.
Asked about her clients’ next step, de Silva also signaled they will pursue further legal action.
“The Chabad House has once before had to go to the United States Supreme Court just to establish itself in Evanston at Northwestern and may have to again,” de Silva wrote in an email to The Daily, referring to the legal battle that ended with Chabad House opening its doors near the NU campus in 1985.
Klein remained active within the NU community after the disaffiliation, continuing to hold Shabbat dinners at Chabad House and leading student trips to Israel. An online petition in support of him drew hundreds of signatures.
Klein was unavailable to comment Saturday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Chabad House and Klein’s attorney.