`Yale Five' Suit Dismissed By Conn. Judge

Students vow appeal after court rejects complaints

The Yale Five have failed to overcome the first hurdle in their battle to change Yale University's housing policy.

A federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit against Yale brought by four Orthodox Jewish undergraduates who alleged a policy requiring students to live in coed dormitories violated their civil rights.

The four students--dubbed the "Yale Five"--announced Friday they would appeal the ruling by Judge Alfred V. Covello '54.

"The dormitory arrangements at Yale run counter to my strongly-held religious convictions," said sophomore Elisha D. Hack, one of the four students, in a statement.

Coed bathrooms and mixed-sex dormitories violate Orthodox Jewish rules on chastity and modesty, the students said.

Covello's July 31 ruling, made public Friday, did not address the discrimination allegations, instead finding that Yale was not covered by federal civil rights statutes because it is not a "government actor."

The judge also dismissed the students' allegations that Yale held monopoly power in the student housing market, saying students could have gone to another comparable university.

The ruling also found Yale was not in violation of the Fair Housing Act, as the plaintiffs had argued, because it had not denied the students housing based on their religion.

One of the students' lawyers, Rick Garnett, said the judge's ruling does not resolve the fundamental discrimination claim. His clients plan to file an appeal, probably this week, he said.

In the meantime, the students will continue to violate Yale policy by living off-campus, prolonging a dispute which began almost a year ago.

Unacceptable Accommodations

Yale students are required to live on campus during their first and second yearsunder a housing policy implemented in 1995.Previously, only first-year students were requiredto live on campus.

All students are randomly assigned to one oftwelve residential colleges, analogous toHarvard's Houses, before matriculation. Moststudents live in dormitories similar to first-yearaccommodations in Harvard Yard for their firstyear. They then move into their assigned colleges.

Married students and students over 21 areallowed to request exemptions to the residencyrequirement.

Floors housing first-years are segregated bygender, with designated single-sex bathrooms. Butsophomores living in the residential collegesuites may share bathrooms with the oppositegender, said Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy.

According to Hack and other plaintiffs in thecase, these arrangements violate their religiousbeliefs.

"We cannot, in good conscience, live in a placewhere women are permitted in men's rooms, andwhere visiting men can traipse through the commonhalls on the women's floors--in various stages ofundress--in the middle of the night," Hack wrotein a New York Times opinion piece Sept. 8.

But Yale officials say the residential collegesystem is a crucial element of campus life andthat a Yale education would be incomplete withoutthe student interaction the college systemprovides.

"The system is designed to expose students tothe diversity of the student population," Conroysaid. "It is an integral part of a Yaleeducation."

The students--then first-years RachelWolgelerntner, Batsheva Greer and Hack as well assophomores Lisa Friedman and JeremyHershman--filed the lawsuit in October.Wolgelerntner dropped her name from the suit afterdeciding to marry.

Unanswered Questions

At the heart of the lawsuit was the contentionthat Yale had violated the students' first, fourthand fourteenth amendment rights by interferingwith their free exercise of religion.

But to be held to these laws and otherantidiscrimination statutes, Yale would have to beconsidered a "government entity," a claim whichthe judge rejected.

While the university does receive significantfederal, state and local funding, Covello ruledYale "cannot be considered a state actor" becausethe state of Connecticut does not "appoint amajority of the members to Yale's governingboard."

Covello also decided the university had notviolated the federal Fair Housing Act because Yalehad not denied the students housing based on theirreligion--merely given them housing they did notlike.

"Yale has neither refused to provide residencehall accommodations to the students nor denied theplaintiffs rooms in the residence halls," Covellowrote in the decision.

The students also claimed Yale engaged inmonopolistic practices by requiring first andsecond-year students to live on campus, therebymonopolizing the housing market for Yaleundergraduates.

But the judge ruled Yale "does not possess thecharacter of uniqueness needed to confer marketpower," and students could have "opted to attend adifferent college or university if they were notsatisfied with Yale's housing policy.