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Students’ attorney accuses Yeshiva University of ‘scorched earth’ legal tactics

“Well-meaning politicians are kindly asked to learn the facts before attacking Jewish education,” responded a Becket Fund vice president.

Yeshiva University's Mendel Gottesman Library at 2520 Amsterdam Ave. between West 185th and 186th Streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Yeshiva University's Mendel Gottesman Library at 2520 Amsterdam Ave. between West 185th and 186th Streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Five New York State Assembly members sent a letter to Yeshiva University’s board of trustees on March 13, accusing the Jewish school, which has been embroiled in a dispute with an LGBTQ student group seeking recognition, of making “outrageous demands for the personal and private information of your LGBTQ college students.”

The private university with nearly 5,000 undergraduates—and its attorneys at the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and firm Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan—have “demanded that members of the YU Pride Alliance provide the university with an onerous and unprecedented amount of personal information,” wrote the legislators.

That includes each student’s “federal and state tax returns, and unrestricted access to their mental and physical health records, including psychology, psychiatric and social work treatment, employment and educational records,” they stated.

Yeshiva’s “lawyers must understand the safety issue associated with relinquishing this information,” they added. “Clearly, the intent is to silence and intimidate the LGBTQ members and allies of the university’s undergraduate community by demanding information that threatens their safety and well-being, and by burdening them and their families with this time-consuming, expensive, and highly personal invasion of their privacy.”

They also called the legal strategy a “scorched earth” tactic.

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, told JNS that the lawmakers “are being used and misled by those who resort to publicity stunts because they know the lawsuit ultimately will not prevail.”

“Yeshiva has repeatedly asked the plaintiffs’ lawyer to bypass this discovery phase in the trial court and instead proceed quickly to the New York Court of Appeals to resolve the legal questions,” said Baxter.  “Unfortunately, plaintiffs’ lawyer has refused this offer. The university’s requests for documents quantifying plaintiffs’ claimed injuries are standard in such cases and made necessary by plaintiffs’ attorney.”

Yeshiva University “has already established a path forward to provide loving and supportive spaces for its LGBTQ students,” he added. “Well-meaning politicians are kindly asked to learn the facts before attacking Jewish education.”

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