Philadelphia City Council Thursday condemned Chestnut Hill College for its handling of a discrimination case involving a black student who was expelled for alleged theft weeks before he was to graduate.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission found "probable cause" to suggest that discrimination occurred in the case of Allan-Michael Meads in March 2012 and was preparing to go to a hearing to lay out its case.
But the college appealed to Commonwealth Court, arguing that it should be exempt from the commission's jurisdiction because it is a private Catholic college and Catholic high schools are exempt.
The City Council resolution, passed by a vote of 14-3, noted a pattern of unfair treatment against African American students at the college as alleged by the commission and blasted the college's decision to try and evade the commission's jurisdiction.
"Let me be clear, no institution, religious or otherwise, has the freedom to racially discriminate," City Councilwoman Helen Gym said in a statement. "Chestnut Hill's appeal not only threatens to undermine the civil rights of its own students, current and former, but also the civil rights of thousands of students enrolled in over 50 private colleges and universities across the Commonwealth."
Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for the college, issued a statement, taking sharp exception.
"CHC has no intention of trying to circumvent anti-discrimination laws," he asserted. "It is merely questioning the applicability of one law: the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. To be clear, Pennsylvania law already holds that the Act does not apply to Catholic high schools. The College, which is a Catholic institution, seeks clarification on whether the law also applies to Catholic colleges. It is unfortunate that Council has chosen to condemn the college merely for asking a valid legal question."
The college had alleged that Meads was not truthful in reporting proceeds from a student performance of A Raisin in the Sun - a 1959 Lorraine Hansberry play about a black family's experiences on the South Side of Chicago - to benefit the Lupus Foundation. It also faulted him for spending some money on a cast and crew party.
The commission found no evidence to support that Meads "intended to deceive, steal, or misappropriate funds." It also noted that the college allowed white students suspected of theft and other offenses to remain enrolled, while black students suffered harsher consequences.
Meads has maintained his innocence.
The commission objected to the college's assertion it should be exempt from the commission's jurisdiction, noting that the college does receive some state and federal funding.
"CHC is trying to set a dangerous precedent of essentially legalizing discrimination in Pennsylvania's Catholic colleges," said Jelani Cooper, the commission's assistant chief counsel.
Feeley said if the Commonwealth Court rules in favor of the commission, the college will contest the charges at a hearing. The college previously argued that Meads' expulsion had nothing to do with race.