Court upholds ruling for Northwestern U. in Chabad discrimination suit


(JTA) — Northwestern University did not discriminate against a local Chabad house when it cut ties with the religious institution, a federal appeals court ruled.

On Thursday, U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Richard Posner in Chicago upheld the dismissal of a September 2012 lawsuit alleging that the university had severed relations with the Tannenbaum Chabad House in Evanston, Ill., and its director, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, for anti-Semitic and religious reasons.

Northwestern had cut ties with the Tannenbaum Chabad House that month following reports that the rabbi had served underage students wine and hard alcohol.

In its lawsuit, Tannenbaum Chabad claimed that the university disaffiliated with it while campus fraternities and sororities also were guilty of underage drinking.

“As far as we’ve been able to determine, plying minors with hard liquor is not required by any Jewish religious observance,” Posner said in his decision, pointing out that alcohol was served regularly to underage students while under Chabad House auspices and that Klein drank with them.

Posner also said Klein was warned repeatedly but did not react.

“The Seventh Circuit’s opinion almost consciously avoided the record and the facts,” Jonathan Lubin, co-counsel on the original lawsuit, said in a statement provided to JTA.

“The decision simply disregards the actual record before the Court, and instead points to Wikipedia articles and Youtube videos to support its wild guesses as to what happened at the Chabad House,” the statement added.

Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, the director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, told the Northwestern Daily that he was disappointed by the ruling and was mulling any further action.

“Rabbi Klein followed Northwestern’s rules and despite that was singled out by the university,” Moscowitz told the Northwestern Daily. “Rabbi Klein remains steadfastly committed to serving the students and faculty of Northwestern University, as he has for close to three decades.”

Klein and Chabad can ask for another hearing before the full panel of appeals court judges. If unsuccessful there, they can take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alan Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, said in a statement that the university is “pleased” with the decision. He said the university has affiliations with several other religious centers on or near the campus, including the Fiedler Hillel Center.

The Chabad House continues to operate in Evanston with Klein as its director.

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