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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Single-Sex Dorms Spark Legal Controversy in D.C

By Patrick G. Lee

Will the sexes stand (and sleep) united or divided in the dorm rooms of the Catholic University of America?

A judge may be called upon to decide that question.

The D.C. university plans to eliminate coed housing for its incoming freshman class, in the hopes that it will help reduce binge drinking and discourage casual hook-ups, university president John Garvey announced in this WSJ opinion piece.

Garvey wrote that he plans to convert the entire campus to single-sex housing over the next few years.

But a legal squabble may be brewing. John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School, says he intends to sue Catholic University over the same-sex plan, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Banzhaf told the Law Blog that his argument rests on the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, commercial spaces, housing and employment based on any number of factors, including sex, race, religion and marital status. Reinstating single-sex dorms would constitute gender discrimination, Banzhaf maintains.

The only exception allowed under the act is for “business necessities,” which means the Catholic University must demonstrate that it can operate the school and remain in business only by instituting a single-sex dorm policy, Banzhaf said. Given that the university has been offering coed housing for decades, it is unlikely the exception will apply in this case, he said.

The university issued a prepared statement in response to a Law Blog request for comment, saying it had not yet received or reviewed any legal documents regarding Banzhaf’s intent to sue and that it was “confident that the law does not require men and women be housed together in residence halls.”

If the university insists on upholding the new policy, Banzhaf told the Law Blog, he will pursue legal action against both the University and Garvey as an individual.


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