Update, 2:45 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Chestnut Hill College’s appeal to be exempt from Pennsylvania anti-discrimination statutes, bringing the Catholic school closer to having to face a hearing over alleged racism toward a former student.
Earlier today, Pennsylvania’s highest court released its order. Justice Kevin Dougherty, brother of influential union boss Johnny Doc, recused himself (he was the lone judge to do so). Dougherty spoke at the 2016 Chestnut Hill College commencement and has a son who graduated from the school. Chestnut Hill College can now appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or have the case returned to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), which charged CHC with discrimination in 2015.
The denial of CHC’s appeal is the latest chapter in a saga that started in 2012. Allan-Michael Meads was a senior that year and directed a performance of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play “A Raisin In the Sun.” College administrators accused him of stealing funds from the play and expelled him. Meads has maintained his innocence.
The PHRC gave several instances at Chestnut Hill College where white students were punished more leniently for similar or more serious allegations and levied the discrimination charge. Chestnut Hill College responded with a legal challenge, arguing that as a Catholic higher education institution it is distinctly private and not bound by Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws as public universities are. The trial court and Commonwealth Court ruled against CHC and in favor of Meads and the PHRC.
The bulk of CHC’s argument relied on comparing it to Catholic high schools, which had been ruled by Pennsylvania courts to be private entities. But the Commonwealth Court said colleges offered “free-thinking” environments, separating them from elementary and high school institutions.
Chestnut Hill College spokesperson Kathleen Spigelmyer said in a statement, ‘We are disappointed with the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court not to hear our petition in this case. Our objective was only to seek clarification on important questions of law concerning the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. That said, we respect the Court’s decision.”
The lengthy legal battle has drawn many detractors. Last year, City Council passed a resolution condemning CHC, and Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted his support for the resolution. Many faculty and staff have also left the school, with some citing the ongoing litigation as part of their reasoning.
For greater detail, here’s our in-depth story about the case.