by Jan Alex
Last Monday, May 11, Chestnut Hill College appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the rulings of a lower court and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) that found Pennsylvania discrimination laws apply to the school. The school continues to insist it is immune from such laws as a religiously affiliated college.
The case stems from an investigation by the PHRC into the 2012 expulsion of African-American student Allan-Michael Meads.
Meads was expelled for allegedly stealing profits from a school play that he helped organize. Chestnut Hill College alleges that he violated the college’s code of conduct by using the profits for “personal expenditures” and for failing to cooperate with the college administration’s investigation into his alleged theft.
Meads used some of the funds for a party for the cast and crew at Applebee’s. The rest of the funds where used by Meads to make a donation to the Lupus foundation and to purchase programs for the play from Staples.
After an investigation, the school expelled Meads, and he immediately filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, claiming that he was “excessively punished and expelled” due to his race.
The PHRC investigation ruled in Meads’ favor, and found that the college has a long history of taking less severe disciplinary action against white students as compared to African-American students. The PHRC ruled that the college did discriminate against Meads based on his race and that the institution would have to face charges.
The report filed by the PHRC found that, “One hundred percent of the African-American students charged with a violation were either expelled or suspended,” whereas white students charged with violations were frequently given less severe punishments, which included reflection papers, fines, and short-term probation.”
The college has vehemently denied the report’s findings and filed an appeal of the PHRC’s ruling, claiming that as a private, religiously affiliated college, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the state’s anti-discrimination law. In April, however, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled against the college, stating that as long as it receives even a dollar of state funding, it must follow state anti-discrimination laws and is subject to the authority of the PHRC.
Chestnut Hill College is getting help in its Supreme Court appeal from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. The ACCU has publicly stated its support for the college, and has gone so far as to absorb the lawyer fees for the college’s petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In a statement included in an email to the college’s administration, ACCU president Michael Galligan-Stierle said that the court’s decision “demonstrated a serious lack of understanding about the essential nature and mission of Catholic institutions of higher education.”
Whether or not the Supreme Court even agrees to take up the appeal will remain to be seen. The Supreme Court accepts less than 5 percent of the appeals it receives and will likely not respond to the request for several weeks. If, in fact, it does accept the appeal, the case will likely set a new precedent for colleges and universities associated with the Catholic Church.
Jan Alex is an intern.