Case Statistics

Defendant Name: Northwestern University

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Practice Area: Civil Rights

Status: Active
Date Filed: 05/20/2024

Case Documents

Case Overview

On May 20, 2024, a Northwestern University student filed a class action lawsuit against the school, alleging that inaction by its leadership against antisemitic behavior fostered a hostile on-campus environment that traumatized its Jewish student population.

The complaint includes allegations that Northwestern failed to protect Jewish students from severe and pervasive antisemitic harassment that exploded on campus following the October 7, 2023, attack in Israel by Hamas-led terrorists. The complaint cites many instances in which the university and its leadership ignored egregious policy violations by students, faculty, and unaffiliated persons, and allowed disruptive and dangerous conduct to escalate without recourse.

In addition to citing how Northwestern failed to meet obligations under its own anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the complaint details a series of “empty” responses from university President Michael Schill to the rise of antisemitism on campus, which ultimately resulted in an unauthorized encampment on the university’s Deering Meadow filled with antisemitic rhetoric.

“For months, President Schill issued statements that addressed rising antisemitism across Northwestern, none of which had any impact at all on the harassment Jewish students were facing on campus,” said Elizabeth Fegan, managing partner of FeganScott. “As the situation worsened and complaints flooded in, Northwestern, under the direction of President Schill, abandoned Jewish students who were desperate for help.”

Fegan added that Northwestern registered student organizations and faculty began spouting antisemitism within days of the October 7 attack, and by November, antisemitism at Northwestern had spiraled out of control, and the campus became unsafe for Jewish students.

“To go to class, these students had to face posters and banners containing antisemitic slogans and glorifying the October 7 terrorist attacks,” Fegan said. “They were confronted by unauthorized demonstrations, making certain facilities or parts of campus inaccessible. And while they grew increasingly fearful for their safety, the university turned a blind eye.”

According to the complaint, in early November, Northwestern received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Title IX Compliance reminding the school of its “legal obligation to address prohibited discrimination against students and others on campus – including those perceived to be Jewish.”

In response, the complaint details one instance in which Northwestern claimed to fulfill that legal obligation by establishing an Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate, but once the administration sidestepped the committee at a pivotal moment, committee members quickly concluded that the university’s leadership were not committed to utilizing it for its stated purpose, and it dissolved.

Antisemitism continued to spread throughout Northwestern’s campus, leading the U.S. Department of Education’s OCR to open an investigation into the university’s compliance with Title VI. According to FeganScott attorney Jonathan Lindenfeld, despite the pending investigation, the university allowed an encampment to form at the center of campus, which it admitted violated its own policies and contained antisemitic harassment.

“What’s more, rather than punish the students, student organizations, and faculty that Northwestern knows contributed to the hostile environment Jewish students endured on campus, President Schill acquiesced to the demonstrators’ demands, agreeing not to hold them accountable for their actions and even went as far as to agreeing to retaliate against anyone that discloses who participated in the encampment,” Lindenfeld said.

According to the complaint, in May 2024, a group of Northwestern Jewish students made a plea to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to address their concerns about antisemitism on campus. Recent media reports state that President Schill has agreed to appear before that House committee for a hearing on May 23.

“It’s astonishing that, even in the face of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, Northwestern’s leadership remained steadfast in its choice to ignore Jewish students’ concerns,” said Lindenfeld. “It’s thanks to the courage of many Jewish students, including our client, that Northwestern will finally have to answer for its indifference to, and enabling of, antisemitism on campus. Through our suit, we intend to effectuate systemic change that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of current and future students at Northwestern.”

The lawsuit, filed by FeganScott in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that students, faculty, and staff members that participated in the unauthorized encampment, spread antisemitic rhetoric, violated university policies, and contributed to the hostile educational environment that Jewish students have endured on campus since October have faced no meaningful or effective disciplinary charges.

In addition to recovering damages incurred by affected students as a result of Northwestern’s failure to create a safe on-campus environment and holding those who contributed to that failure responsible, the lawsuit seeks the appointment of a neutral monitor to oversee compliance with Northwestern anti-discrimination and -harassment policies and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.