Logan Howard, Senior Photographer

On Thursday afternoon, the United States Department of Justice sued Yale over alleged discrimination against white and Asian American applicants in the admissions process.

The lawsuit comes after the DOJ issued an August report finding that Yale violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any institution or activity receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. The DOJ ordered Yale to submit proposed amendments to its admissions process — including a date by which Yale would end its practice of “race discrimination” — before Sept. 15. Noncompliance, the DOJ said, would lead to a lawsuit.

Yale has not released any such proposal to the public. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions & Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan told the News earlier this week that Yale remains in talks with the DOJ but declined to answer whether Yale has submitted a private proposal to the DOJ. On Oct. 8 — three weeks after the DOJ’s deadline — the Department sued the University. 

In an email to the Yale community Thursday evening, University President Peter Salovey reiterated that Yale has communicated with the DOJ over the past few weeks, adding that the University has provided them with statistics showing that the allegations are false.

“I want to be clear: Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity,” Salovey wrote. “Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful. Yale’s admissions policies will not change as a result of the filing of this baseless lawsuit. We look forward to defending these policies in court.”

The suit, which was filed in Connecticut, alleges that Yale engages in “racial balancing,” which is similar to having racial quotas. The suit claims that this balancing disproportionately hurts white and Asian American applicants but also “relies upon and reinforces damaging race-based stereotypes” by “signal[ing] that racially-favored applicants cannot compete against Asian and White applicants.”

“Illegal race discrimination by colleges and universities must end,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, in a press release. “All persons who apply for admission to colleges and universities should expect and know that they will be judged by their character, talents and achievements and not the color of their skin. To do otherwise is to permit our institutions to foster stereotypes, bitterness and division.”

The lawsuit follows a two-year DOJ investigation prompted by a 2016 complaint against Yale from the Asian American Coalition for Education and 132 other organizations.

Adam Mortara, the lead trial counsel for Students for Fair Admissions in the high-profile lawsuit against Harvard University, told the News that reading the DOJ’s Thursday lawsuit against Yale gave him “extreme deja vu.” He said that the facts of the case, as well as Yale’s admissions practices outlined in the complaint, are “virtually identical” to the Harvard case.

“I can tell you, obviously this is a complaint, and the Justice Department has to prove these allegations,” Mortara said. “But if they are true — what the Justice Department has found in a multi-year investigation, and laid out — then just as Harvard is potentially in trouble, given the evidence that we used in our case, Yale may be in significant difficulties, given its widespread, untimed and seemingly pervasive use of race.”

Cara McClellan, the assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the News that although the facts of this case look similar to those of the Harvard case, there is a key difference: while the Harvard lawsuit was brought by a private organization, the plaintiff in the Yale case is the federal government.

McClellan said that while the DOJ has framed this lawsuit as an anti-discrimination case, by prioritizing what they deem “objective indicators of merit” — such as SAT scores and grades — it is clear that the DOJ is looking to make admissions colorblind. McClellan added that as a civil rights attorney, she sees colorblindness as counterproductive to any anti-discrimination efforts.

“It’s hard to understand [the lawsuit] as anything other than an attack on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions, and the decades of precedent that say you can consider race as one of many factors in admissions,” McClellan said.

On Oct. 1, 2019, a judge ruled in favor of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions process. The case was appealed in May and is currently being litigated.


Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu

This is a breaking story and has been updated.