Friday, November 14, 2014

University Did Not Discriminate Against Religious Organization Banned for Serving Too Much Alcohol to Minors

If you take a stroll on Northwestern University’s campus tonight, you might expect to find some underage students drinking alcohol. What you might not expect to find, however, is a religious organization serving large quantities of alcohol to underage students. Yet, this is what happened, many times, at the Tannenbaum Chabad House, a Jewish religious organization located on Northwestern’s campus. Apparently, alcohol was distributed by the rabbis at Tannenbaum to underage students regularly on weekend nights. Parties became so rambunxious that, on one occasion, a student had to be hospitalized for excessive alcohol consumption. After several warnings, Northwestern finally cut off all of its affiliation with Tannenbaum in 2012.

As a result, the rabbi in charge of Tannenbaum sued the University, claiming that the University’s decision to disaffiliate was due to anti-Semitism. The rabbi claimed that the University’s decision violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which forbids discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin” by recipients of federal money, like Northwestern. The court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit, holding that § 1981 does not prohibit discrimination based on religion. Instead, it only forbids discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

The court also mentioned that in order to prove discrimination, whether on race or religion, it must be clear that hostility to a particular race or religion is the motivation for the negative action, and not something else. Here, the court noted that the excessive consumption of alcohol by minors served as the University’s decision to terminate its affiliation with Tannenbaum, not hostility toward Judaism.

This lesson is particularly important for employers. If an employer fears that he might face a lawsuit alleging discrimination after firing an employee, he should make every effort to gather evidence showing that the firing was due to some reason other than the employee’s race, religion, disability, etc. If the employer can prove this, then a court probably will not find that the employee was discharged for an illegal reason.

Ultimately, employers should not fear firing bad employees. With the help of competent legal counsel, an employer can minimize the legal fallout from firing an employee.