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According to a lawsuit filed in Louisiana federal court, a man who was raised Jewish but had since converted to Christianity, Joshua Bonadona, was denied a position as a football coach at Louisiana College on the basis of his Jewish descent. Though there are many laws that address this sort of discrimination in various ways, he sued only under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming what he experienced was race discrimination. (As leading racial discrimination attorneys here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we pay attention to the news and legal developments with respect to discrimination and hope to bring them to you in our blog.)
When Louisiana College sought to have the case dismissed, the judge ruled for Bonadona—the first time a court has found Jews constitute a race for the purposes of Title VII. The ruling is surprising particularly given that other courts have rejected claims that anti-Jewish discrimination is a form of “national origin” discrimination on the basis that “Jews, like Catholics and Protestants, hail from a variety of different countries.” Lapine v. Edward Marshall Boehm, Inc., No. 89-cv-8420 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 28, 1990). The same reasoning would preclude a finding of race discrimination—after all, “Jews, like Catholic and Protestants,” may be of “a variety of different” races, at least was we understand it today.
Even stranger is that Bonadona pursued that risky legal strategy when there were many other legal avenues available to him. For example, Title VII not only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race but also religion—a category that obviously includes Jews. No doubt the College would have argued that the discrimination was not anti-Jewish since Bonadona is now a Christian, but discriminating against someone because they used to be Jewish is still a form of religious discrimination. In fact, in Schroer v. Billington, a court found that anti-transgender discrimination was prohibited under Title VII as sex discrimination by comparing it to a situation similar to that presented in Bonadona’s case: “Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism. . . . That would be a clear case of discrimination ‘because of religion.’”
One possible explanation for Bonadona’s strange strategy is that his paperwork filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which he was required to submit prior to filing a lawsuit under Title VII—only indicated “race discrimination” and not any other kind. Because Bonadona could only pursue claims about the specific kind of discrimination identified in his EEOC filing, he was precluded from suing for religious discrimination. This serves as a cautionary tale of the importance of hiring an attorney before filing paperwork with government agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing: an error you make in your submissions can come back to haunt you during your lawsuit.
Nonetheless, Bonadona had other possible legal routes outside of Title VII. A federal law that does not require any filings with government agencies, 42 U.S.C. section 1981, prohibits race discrimination in the “mak[ing] and enforce[ment] of contracts,” which courts have found includes employment. Although Section 1981 protects fewer groups than Title VII does, what it means by “race” is far broader than what Title VII does because it was enacted in 1866, when many differences we no longer consider significant were considered “racial.” As a result, federal courts have applied Section 1981 to situations involving discrimination against not only African Americans, but Latinos, Jews, Iraqis, and Arabs. See, e.g., St. Francis Coll. V. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604 (1987); Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987).
In any event, Bonadona’s case is a testament to the fact that there are many different paths to justice. Often times when one route is closed off, others still remain open. Attorneys at the California Civil Rights Law Group have extensive experience in discovering those paths and which hold the best promise of making things right.