Catholic U's President Served With Formal Sex Discrimination Complaint

Catholic University's President John Garvey has been served with a notarized formal legal complaint charging that his plan to segregate all of CU's dormitories on the basis of gender constitutes illegal sex discrimination under the Human Rights Act
July 11, 2011 - PRLog -- Catholic University's [CU] President John Garvey has been served with a notarized formal legal complaint charging that his plan to segregate all of CU's dormitories on the basis of gender constitutes illegal sex discrimination under the Human Rights Act because CU cannot prove that segregation of dormitories by sex -- unlike the segregation by sex of locker rooms, shower facilities, and restrooms -- is necessary, and because the Act provides no relevant exceptions for religious institutions and tenets even if one were to be claimed.

Interestingly, the complaint names CU President John Garvey in his individual and personal capacity, rather than the university itself, for aiding and abetting sex discrimination, a separate and possibly more serious charge under the statute. Although only Garvey is named in the charging document served today, the complaint suggests the possibility of also charging others -- including CU Trustees, faculty, and staff -- for their role in also aiding and abetting the sex discrimination.

The complaint was filed Friday with the Office of Human Rights by public interest law professor John Banzhaf.  Banzhaf is known for having filed similar sex discrimination complaints against more than 50 dry cleaners who charged women more than men to launder shirts, numerous hair cutters who charged women a higher price for a simple basic haircut, various bars which as part of ladies night charged men more than women, and the Cosmos (and Metropolitan) Club in D.C. which for over 100 years had refused to admit women. All the complaints were successful, and resulted in settlements, and with some attorney fee payments.

The complaint notes that if CU -- for whatever arguably laudable reasons -- set up separate dormitories for white and black students, or for Jews and Muslims, or for straight and gay students, it would clearly constitute illegal discrimination under the statute which prohibits separate treatment and denial of access to any facilities based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and other factors, and even if no one group was discriminated against, he says.

"That would be true even if the dorms were perfectly equal in every way, since we have long discarded the idea of separate but equal facilities, and the Act prohibits any form of separate treatment except where absolutely necessary, rather than only those where one group is clearly being discriminated against," says Prof. Banzhaf.

Indeed, when he filed complaints against bars with ladies nights, the owners argued that no one was being discriminated against: that women were not discriminated against because they paid lower prices, and men weren't discriminated against because they supported the lower women's price since it encouraged more women to come to the bars and to drink more. Naturally, these arguments were rejected, because even benefits to both classes does not legally excuse discrimination.

Similarly, the complaint suggests, it would illegal for CU to require men and women to park in sex-segregated parking lots, to use different entrances to enter classroom buildings, to be assigned to seats in the classroom based upon gender, to swim in different swimming pools, etc.

Assigning students to separate classes based upon gender would also clearly be illegal, even if the classes were exactly the same in every regard: e.g., Calculus for Men 101 and Calculus for Women 101.

Even worse would be assigning them to sex-segregated classes based on gender stereotypes -- e.g., Remedial Math for Men 101 (constructed around sports statistics), and Remedial Math for Women 101 (constructed around cooking and recipes) -- something very reminiscent of assigning males to shop class and females to home economics.

Here, since Garvey's reasons for segregating dormitories by sex is based -- in his own words -- upon stereotypes concerning the genders, the latter hypothetical might be closer to reality than the former, suggests Banzhaf.

Years ago, D.C.'s highest court held that neither religious affiliation nor strongly held religious beliefs would justify even a Catholic university from denying equal access to all its facilities because of any of the factors set forth in the statute. In that case, it held that Georgetown University could not prohibit gay students, and their student organization promoting the gay lifestyle, from using the university's facilities, despite the very strongly held and long standing views of the Catholic church and Georgetown University regarding homosexuality.

Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] found that a decision by Belmont Abbey College -- a very religious Catholic college runs by monks -- not to provide contraceptive pills under its health care coverage was discriminatory because it denied a benefit to women only.  The policy was held to be illegal, despite the long-standing and very strong beliefs opposing contraception by the Catholic church and its followers, and despite the fact that state law provided an exemption for religious organizations.

Interestingly, Garvey did not base his decision to move to all sex-segregated dorms on any religious doctrine or tenet, but rather, in his own words, that it would promote virtue and ethics, especially "Nicomachean Ethics," by discouraging sexual activity and drinking. Indeed, he urged other universities -- not just Catholic or religious ones -- to join him in this experiment, which he himself termed "countercultural."

In his article arguing for a return to sex-segregated dorms last popular in the 1950s, Garvey cited studies purporting to suggest that mixed-gender dorms encourage sex and drinking, and that a return to sex-segregated dorms which be an effective remedy. But the author of the principal study Garvey relied upon has stated that his research does not in fact support Garvey’s assertions or proposed sex-segregation remedy.

As National Public Radio [NPR] put it: "Garvey also cites a 2009 study that found students in co-ed dorms are twice as likely to binge drink and have multiple sexual partners. Brian Willoughby, a professor at Brigham Young University, authored the study. 'A lot of people will ask me, 'So, is your research saying we should just get rid of co-ed dorms?' And I don't think that's what the research is saying’ he says.”

Garvey also suggested in his argument for sex-segregated dorms that women were more "civilized" than men, presumably meaning that they are less likely to want to have sex or to drink. But, notes Banzhaf, this is clearly an antiquated stereotyped view of the genders, and the statute expressly says that race, sex, sexual orientation, and other forms of discrimination cannot be based upon "the stereotyped characterization of one group as opposed to another."

When Banzhaf filed the sex-discrimination complaint which resulted in the courts ordering that the first woman be admitted to a formerly all-male military-style state-supported university, he was called many names. Critics supported the school's argument that admitting women would destroy the school's esprit de corps and unique educational mission, lead to different physical standards, and violate freedom of association. Yet the courts ordered women to be admitted, rejecting the sexual stereotypes upon which the school's arguments were based.

Now he is likewise again being attacked, including a particularly vicious suggestion on the web site of the Archdiocese of Washington, that he is a "neo-pagan." Banzhaf says he's not a neo-anything, but rather just fighting illegal sex-discrimination as he has done successfully for more than 20 years, and with more than 100 successful legal actions.

CALL (202) 994-7229 OR (703) 527-8418 OR EMAIL JOHN@BANZHAF.NET

Professor of Law
GWU Law School,
2000 H Street, NW
Wash, DC 20052
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418

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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking [], obesity [], etc.
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