Harvard Will Seek to Dismiss Lawsuits Over Single-Sex Rules

(Bloomberg) -- Harvard University said it will ask judges to dismiss a pair of lawsuits that claim the school’s policy against single-sex social clubs punishes them.

Harvard argued on Friday that the plaintiffs’ claims of gender discrimination were “false” and have no statutory or legal foundation.

The suits, filed in federal and state courts in Massachusetts in December, claim that the college’s sanctions against exclusive all-male “final” and other single-sex social clubs are “punishing” the school’s Greek organizations, the women’s in particular.

They claim Harvard “has engaged in an aggressive campaign of intimidation, threats and coercion against all students who join single-sex organizations and advocate for their continued existence,” and seek a court order barring the school from sanctioning students in single-sex groups.

The challenge comes as Harvard is defending itself against a separate lawsuit claiming it discriminates against Asian-American applicants, a case that could to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Harvard’s policy on single-sex social clubs -- endorsed by former president Drew Faust, the first woman to lead the school -- doesn’t amount to a ban. Instead, starting with the Class of 2021, the rules exclude members of such clubs from leading sports teams and recognized student groups and from being endorsed for fellowships such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

The policy “does not discriminate against any undergraduate student” but rather “allows students to make a fully informed choice,” said Rachael Dane, a Harvard spokeswoman. “It also dedicates resources to students whose decisions reflect the college’s aspirations for inclusivity, helping them to open their organizations to the extraordinary diversity of Harvard College’s student body.” 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Harvard hasn’t had a Greek-life system on campus for more than a century. Faust said in 2017 it was committed to not becoming a Greek school.

“Harvard should not have to change its commitment to nondiscrimination and educational philosophy for outside organizations that are not aligned with our longstanding mission,” Dane said Friday.

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