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March 23, 2016 1:59 pm

Lawsuit Against CUNY Alleges Pervasive, Explicit Antisemitism Among Kingsborough College Administrators

avatar by Andrew Pessin

Kingsborough Community College. Photo: Google Images

Kingsborough Community College. Photo: Google Images.

A lawsuit filed last month by a faculty member at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Kingsborough Community College alleges explicit antisemitic discrimination and harassment by senior administrators, The Algemeiner has learned.

According to the complaint, filed by Professor of Business Jeffrey Lax and obtained by The Algemeiner, senior administrators actively limited the hiring and obstructed the promotion of Jews, and have “promoted and maintained a pervasively hostile work environment.” This hostility, the complaint continues, includes mocking religious head coverings worn by Jewish faculty members, referring to Jews as “the Devil” and “evil” and denigrating people for keeping kosher.

Named in the complaint as a CUNY co-defendant is Stuart Suss, former vice president for academic affairs and provost at Kingsborough. According to the complaint, Suss subjected Lax, an orthodox Jew, to “constant discrimination based on his religion,” including “comments, innuendos and verbal harassment,” such as “voicing support for suicide bombers and their attacks against Jews,” “referring to Jews as ‘horrible’” and his “constantly reminding people that he knows that they are Jewish.”

The complaint also outlines “extraordinary measures” that senior administrators took to prevent Lax from obtaining promotions, including prohibiting some members of the relevant committee from voting in support of him, and appointing a non-departmental chairperson to the committee for the purpose of voting against him.

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When Lax appealed an initial negative decision on a promotion, according to the complaint, Suss refused to present the appeal to the relevant committee, in violation of Kingsborough’s procedures. When Lax was subject to “an unfounded complaint of discrimination” against him, CUNY not only allegedly violated several procedures in the way it handled his case, but Suss “encouraged [Lax’s] accuser to manufacture a false statement about a comment that he had made to her.”

High-level officials at Kingsborough were “aware of the pervasively hostile work environment,” according to the complaint, but allowed it to continue. One administrator, after being informed of the discriminatory practices, allegedly stated, “I know.”

After Lax registered separate complaints with Kingsborough’s General Counsel and the Interim Provost, the suit further alleges, he was subject to retaliation in which “discrimination and harassment only intensified”: He was paid less than similarly situated non-Jewish coworkers; he was excluded from college-level service; top-level administrators were encouraged not to speak to him; and he was not considered for promotions that were awarded to less qualified and less experienced non-Jewish individuals.

Lax is represented by the law firm of Corey Stark PLLC and the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit legal think tank that, according to its website, aims to counter “the abuse of the law as a weapon of war against Western democracy.” According to its director, Brooke Goldstein, in a statement obtained by The Algemeiner:

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 antisemitic conduct have had no place to turn for legal representation, including financial assistance. The Lawfare Project is committed to fighting religious discrimination on US campuses and ensuring that all members of the academic community are equipped to enforce their rights.

Kenneth Marcus, president of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, commented in the same statement, “… I hear from so many Jewish students, professors and staff members who tell heartbreaking stories of recent anti-Jewish discrimination [at CUNY]. 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.”

Last week, the New York State Senate passed a non-binding resolution to slash CUNY’s budget by $485 million, partly due to the Senate’s dissatisfaction with CUNY’s response to earlier allegations of antisemitic activity across its campuses, as reported by The Algemeiner. Last month, as also reported by The Algemeiner, the pro-Israel advocacy group the Zionist Organization of America sent a 14-page letter to CUNY documenting antisemitic incidents at four of its 23 campuses, attributing them and what it considered a pervasive anti-Jewish atmosphere to local chapters of the national group, Students for Justice in Palestine .

The President of Kingsborough Community College, Farley Herzek, responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment, stating:

Based on my knowledge of the review of this claim, it is baseless and entirely without merit. Discrimination and acts of bigotry of any kind are in complete violation of the values we stand for at Kingsborough Community College.

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