Lawsuit Alleges Pervasive and Endemic Anti-Semitism at CUNY Campus

A lawsuit filed by CUNY Kingsborough professor and department chair Jeffrey Lax, represented by the law firm of Corey Stark PLLC and The Lawfare Project, exposes a climate of discrimination and rampant harassment on campus, endemic to the administration and targeting recognizable persons of the Jewish faith, or “outward Jews.”

According to the complaint, senior administrators at Kingsborough have actively attempted to limit the hiring and obstruct the promotion of Jews, and have “promoted and maintained a pervasively hostile work environment and atmosphere.” This hostility, the complaint continues, has included senior administration mocking the religious head coverings of Jewish faculty members, referring to Jews as “the Devil” and “evil”, and denigrating people for keeping kosher.

Lax alleges that CUNY officials have systematically implemented a hiring policy designed to rid the school of Jewish faculty, and that Stuart Suss, former Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, directly participated in the anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment. Lax’s complaint describes a campus where high-level officials at Kingsborough were apparently aware of a pervasively hostile work environment, yet allowed it to continue.

Following the multitude of allegations of anti-Semitism at City University of New York (CUNY) campuses, the New York State Senate passed a non-binding resolution to cut the educational institution’s budget by $485 million.

A letter from CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken expressed “deep concern with some recent activities on CUNY campuses.” He further committed to “ensuring that none of our students are subjected to conduct that would interfere with their opportunity to exercise their rights, obtain an education and participate fully in the life of the University because of their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or personal or political views.”

However, neither Milliken nor recent reporting on the issue have acknowledged that both students and professors alike are being victimized. The Lawfare Project, together with the law firm of Corey Stark PLLC, is working on behalf of Professor Lax to enforce his (and all faculty members’) right to employment free of prejudice and unequal treatment, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as state law.

Representatives from The Lawfare Project and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law were invited to accompany several CUNY professors to meet with New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch (of the Council’s Jewish Caucus) and New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind to brief them on the matter. The group proposed the establishment of a Task Force on Anti-Semitism, which would, among other things, impose reporting requirements detailing incidents of anti-Semitism, implement measures to prevent biased and inaccurate preparation and review of such reports, and arrange legal counsel for victims of harassment.

The Lawfare Project’s Brooke Goldstein commented: “We have been hearing about horrific incidents at CUNY—where Jewish professors and students have been targeted in the most vicious ways—for too long. Up until now, faculty and students victimized by anti-Semitic conduct have had no place to turn for legal representation, including financial assistance. The Lawfare Project is committed to fighting religious discrimination on U.S. campuses and ensuring that all members of the academic community are equipped to enforce their rights. We have extended our full support to Professor Lax and his colleagues, and sincerely hope the atmosphere of virulent anti-Semitism at many of our publicly funded schools is taken seriously, and dealt with appropriately.”

Kenneth Marcus, President & General Counsel of the Brandeis Center commented, “The City University of New York is very close to my heart, as I was very pleased to teach there for three years, and I am very conscious of CUNY’s extraordinary success at providing an excellent education at a reasonable price to generations of students. This only adds to my sadness as I hear from so many Jewish students, professors, and staff members who tell heartbreaking stories of recent anti-Jewish discrimination. I deeply hope that CUNY’s leadership will act boldly to address these incidents as well as hate and bias directed against any other group.”