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Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine accused of discrimination in housing policy (8326)

Does the housing policy at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine discriminate against gays and lesbians based on their lack of marital status≠

In Sara Levin, et al. v. Yeshiva University (2001 NY Int. 89, July 2, 2001) the plaintiffs alleged that the University discriminated against them based on marital status in violation of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. The lawsuit also asserted that the school’s housing policy has a negative impact on gays and lesbians in violation of the City Human Rights Law (NYC Admin. Code § 8-107[5] and [17]).

A New York State Supreme Court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint. An Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling finding that there was no discrimination or disparate impact on homosexuals since the policy, “had the same impact on non-married heterosexual medical students as it had on non-married homosexual students.”

However the state’s highest court found that, the “plaintiffs have pleaded allegations sufficient to raise an issue of fact as to whether defendant’s housing policy has a disparate impact on the basis of sexual orientation under the New York City law.” The Court of Appeals modified the order of the Appellate Division and remanded the case to the Supreme Court for further proceedings.

Case Background

The plaintiffs, Sara Levin and Maggie Jones, are lesbians enrolled at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) in the Bronx. Prior to her first year of medical school, Levin filled out an application for housing for her and her partner of five years. In order to live with a non-student the school, pursuant to its policy, asked the plaintiff to submit proof of marriage. Levin couldn’t.

Levin then moved into an on-campus three bedroom apartment with two other students. The next year, she applied for housing for both her and her partner but was denied again. Eventually, the plaintiff and her partner moved into an off-campus apartment in Brooklyn.

Jones, like Levin, applied for housing for herself and her partner in her first year of medical school. She was also denied. She moved into a one-bedroom on campus apartment with another student during her first year of school but eventually moved off-campus with her partner.

School Housing Policy

Yeshiva University has a number of different sized apartments near the medical school available to its medical students. AECOM’s housing policy restricts university owned housing to medical students, their spouses and children.

The policy also holds that all of the apartment vacancies are filled from a waiting list, with a first-come, first-serve basis.

Married couples receive priority for studio apartments and one-bedroom apartments must be shared by a minimum of two students or a married couple. Two-bedroom apartments must be shared by a minimum of three students or a married couple with one or more children. Married couples with children also receive priority for a three-bedroom apartment.

The school policy also requires all married couples to submit proof of their marriage in order to receive priority housing.

COA Ruling

In order to address the plaintiffs’ first claim, that AECOM’s policy discriminates on the basis of marital status, the Court of Appeals turned to two prior holdings, Matter of Pizza Hut v. New York State Human Rights Appeal Bd. (51 NY2d 506) and Hudson View Properties v. Weiss (59 NY2d 733).

“As we held in Matter of Pizza Hut and then again in Hudson View, for the purposes of applying the statutory proscription, a distinction must be made between the complainant’s marital status as such, and the existence of the complainant’s disqualifying relationship — or absence thereof — with another person,” wrote Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick in an opinion for the court. “In our view, AECOM’s housing policy — limiting co-habitational housing eligibility to students, their spouses and dependent children — is substantially indistinguishable from the policy considered in Hudson View limiting occupancy to tenants and their ‘immediate family.’ For this reason, the policy does not facially discriminate on the basis of marital status and the causes of action alleging such discrimination, as prohibited by both the State and City Human Rights Laws were properly dismissed.”

However, the COA found that the Appellate Division erred when it dismissed the plaintiffs’ second complaint.

Specifically, the Appellate Court held that, “AECOM’s housing policy did not have a disparate impact on plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation.” The court based its ruling on the idea that, “married students had to be excluded from consideration for purposes of comparison between the benefited and excluded classes.”

Judge Ciparick went on to find, “In order to determine whether AECOM’s housing policy has a disparate impact that falls along the impermissible lines of sexual orientation, there must be a comparison that includes consideration of the full composition of the class actually benefited under the challenged policy. Because the Appellate Division’s exclusion of at least a significant portion of that benefited group constituted an error as a matter of law, the cause of action alleging disparate impact discrimination based on sexual orientation as proscribed by the New York City Human Rights Law § 8-107(17) was improperly dismissed on the pleadings and must be reinstated and remitted to Supreme Court for further proceedings. If, upon remittal, plaintiffs establish that AECOM’s policy regarding university owned housing with non-students disproportionately burdens lesbians and gay men, the City Administrative Code requires that defendants justify their policy as bearing a ‘significant relationship to a significant business objective’ (NYC Admin Code § 8-107[17[a][2].”