Judge Rejects Claims of Anti-Jewish Bias at University

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday rejected a lawsuit claiming San Francisco State University has “systematically instilled’ anti-Jewish hostility on campus.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III found Jewish students failed to adequately show in their 80-page complaint that school administrators acted with specific intent to suppress pro-Israel speech or exclude Jewish student groups from on-campus events.

“The [first amended complaint] is at once far too long, repetitive and full of barely relevant material, and yet so conclusory regarding the causes of action asserted that it does not state a plausible claim for relief against any defendant at this juncture,” Orrick wrote in his 38-page ruling.

Six Jewish students and community members sued the university in June 2017, claiming school administrators stirred anti-Jewish sentiment on-campus by favoring anti-Israel student groups and failing to discipline students who disrupted their events and excluded them from activities.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs cite two specific events in which they say the school treated them unfairly. They say administrators refused to stop protesters from shutting down a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in April 2016, and that the school allowed SF Hillel, a Jewish student group, to be excluded from a “Know Your Rights” Fair in February 2017.

For Barkat’s speech, the plaintiffs say the school forced the mayor to speak off-campus, charged an excessive security fee, ordered police to stand down, and let student protesters to use banned sound amplifiers to disrupt the event. They further complain administrators took no disciplinary action against the disrupters for violating the school’s student code of conduct.

Orrick found the plaintiffs failed to show school administrators “took those intentional acts or intentionally failed to act” to suppress the mayor’s speech or elevate the protestors’ speech.

Furthermore, he found the plaintiffs could not point to events with “similar circumstances – i.e., events where speakers would likely draw protests and scheduled when classes are ongoing” – in which non-Jewish groups were offered free or more centrally located rooms.

Orrick also found the school could not be held liable for SF Hillel’s exclusion from an on-campus event in February 2017 because students, not administrators, were the ones who banned the group.

Allegations that administrators knew about the exclusion before the event “do not establish their potential liability,” Orrick added.

The fact that the school investigated both incidents and took actions to address the issues undercuts claims that administrators acted with deliberate indifference, the judge said.

SFSU responded to the incidents by introducing new staff and police trainings, launching new protocols for protests during events, and creating a new president for equity and community inclusion, among other measures.

Orrick also found plaintiffs failed to adequately show the school fomented a hostile learning environment and deprived Jewish students of equal access to education.

The students claim they have been threatened and fear wearing yarmulkes and stars of David on campus. One student said he enrolled in an online class instead of one offered on campus because of a hostile environment in the College of Ethnic Studies. The plaintiffs say students must pass a “political litmus test” and show a commitment to anti-Zionism in order to succeed in one professor’s class.

But Orrick found the plaintiffs failed to state specifics about the alleged threats, that “rumors” of a litmus test are inadequate, and that the “reluctance” of one student to sign up for an on-campus class is not sufficient to state a claim for deprivation of equal access to education.

The judge dismissed the complaint with leave to amend, giving the plaintiffs 20 days to file an amended complaint.

SFSU spokeswoman Mary Kenny declined to comment. Plaintiffs’ attorney Rob Adkins, of Winston & Strawn in San Francisco did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday afternoon.

 

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