by Sue Ann Rybak
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, on Oct. 24, denied Chestnut Hill College’s appeal to be exempt from Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination statutes. Had the appeal succeeded, it could have removed students at private, religious colleges in Pennsylvania from the protection of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (HRA) and the intervention of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) when it came to disciplinary actions.
The appeal stemmed from a decision by the PHRC in November 2015 that found “probable cause” existed in a complaint filed against Chestnut Hill College by African American student Alan-Michael Meads that claimed the college “excessively punished and expelled him” based on his race in a case involving an alleged theft.
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.”
Responding to the court’s decision, Mead told CBS, “Knowing that justice is prevailing makes me really happy.”
The story behind Meads’ expulsion is contained in the 2015 PHRC report, which claimed there was a clear delineation between the way the college disciplined its white and African American students.
According to the report, Meads, who was scheduled to graduate in May 2012, began plans to put on a production of “A Raisin in the Sun” in the fall of 2011. The play was planned in collaboration with the African American Awareness Society and was purposed to give 20 percent of its profits to the Lupus Foundation. Four performances of the play were held in February, and approximately 300 people attended each performance.
Meads, who worked as a resident assistant at the college and mentored at a local middle school, gave 80 complimentary tickets to middle school students and businesses that provided discounts on items he purchased for the play, the document said.
A day after the last show, Meads, who grew up in Montgomery County and now lives in Philadelphia, gave $500 to the Lupus Foundation.
According to the document, on Feb. 28, 2012, the college emailed him “reminding him that the money from the performance had not yet been deposited.”
The report stated the college “calculated that there should have been approximately $2,248 in profits from the attendance and concessions for Complainant to deposit.”
The report went on to say that the college expelled Meads because it said, “he was not truthful in reporting proceeds from the play and expended money for his own benefit, including eight-hundred dollars ($800) on a cast and crew party.”
In a letter dated July 20, 2015, the commission said it found no evidence to support that Meads “intended to deceive, steal, or misappropriate funds.”
The PHRC looked at the college’s disciplinary records and found that college tended to be more lenient on white students compared to disciplinary measures taken against African-American students.
“One hundred percent of the African-American students charged with a violation were either expelled or suspended,” the PHRC report found. “Many white students that were found liable for violating student codes of conduct either received no discipline, warnings, mediation, reflection papers, fines or probation.”
A copy of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission’s report can be read here.