The US Department of Justice has sued Yale University for racial discrimination in its admissions process, arguing the school deliberately put Asian and white applicants at a disadvantage for decades.
Filed in the US District Court in Connecticut on Thursday, the lawsuit accuses Yale of considering race as a factor for admissions for “at least 50 years,” claiming the school has violated a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars recipients of federal funds from engaging in race-based discrimination.
“Yale’s race discrimination includes imposing undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular most Asian, and white applicants,” the department said in its complaint, adding that the university has “engaged in this race discrimination despite receiving millions of dollars of federal taxpayer funding.”
The DOJ went on to argue that Yale’s admissions process features an “oversized, standardless, intentional use of race” which “injures” some applicants while giving an unfair edge to others.
Yale President Peter Salovey has denied the charges, saying in a statement issued on Thursday that the university “does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity.” He maintained that its policies are “completely fair and lawful,” and deemed the lawsuit “baseless.”
While the general practice of affirmative action has been upheld in the US Supreme Court, allowing schools and universities to take race into consideration on a limited basis when looking at prospective students, the DOJ says Yale failed to use race “in a narrow, time-limited, and targeted manner to achieve specific and defined educational goals,” and instead has “institutionalized its use of racial preferences as a permanent feature of its admissions process and decisions.”
The suit comes on the heels of a two-year probe into Yale’s application framework, which concluded in August. A review of 10 years of admissions data found that the university had turned away “scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit.” The government gave the Ivy League school two weeks to adjust its policies, threatening to sue should it fail to do so.
In 2017, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said it would devote resources to investigating and suing universities for their affirmative action practices. In line with that initiative, the department later voiced support for a private lawsuit brought against Harvard over similar claims of discrimination, which it also said did harm to Asian and white applicants. A federal judge ultimately ruled in the school’s favor, however the plaintiffs have since appealed the decision.
President Donald Trump’s Justice Department also previously moved to toss out a series of federal guidelines – some implemented under his predecessor, Barack Obama – which encouraged school administrators to “diversify” campuses with race-based affirmative action policies.