The Catholic University of America

Summary of District of Columbia Laws

Human Rights

D.C. Human Rights Act

D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2-1401.01 -2-1411.06

For specific prohibitions in employment practices, see under "Employment."

The Law: The D.C. Act is broader than its federal counterpart. It prohibits discrimination in a broad range of areas including employment, places of public accommodation and of resort or amusement, education, public services, housing and commercial space accommodations, the sale of motor vehicle insurance and the rental of a motor vehicle. See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2-1402.11, 1402.21, 1402.31 and 1402.41 (Educational Institutions). It is an unlawful discriminatory practice, subject to the exemptions in § 2-1401.03(b), for an educational institution:(1) To deny, restrict, or to abridge or condition the use of, or access to, any of its facilities, services, programs,or benefits of any program or activity to any person otherwise qualified, wholly or partially, for a discriminatory reason, based upon the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, or disability of any individual; or (2) To make or use a written or oral inquiry, or form of application for admission, that elicits or attempts to elicit information, or to make or keep a record, concerning the race, color, religion, or national origin of an applicant for admission, except as permitted by regulations of the Office. (3) Notwithstanding any other provision of the laws of the District of Columbia, it shall not be an unlawful discriminatory practice in the District of Columbia for any educational institution that is affiliated with a religious organization or closely associated with the tenets of a religious organization to deny, restrict, abridge, or condition -- (A) the use of any fund, service, facility, or benefit; or (B) the granting of any endorsement, approval, or recognition, to any person or persons that are organized for, or engaged in, promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief. As of December, 2010.

*DC law changes often.

A general purpose of the law is to end discrimination "for any reason other than that of individual merit." D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1401.01. The goal of the Act is to ensure every individual "an equal opportunity to participate fully in the economic, cultural and intellectual life of the District and to have an equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of life." The legislation is aimed at ending overt discrimination and practices that indirectly but purposefully violate the law, resulting in discrimination.

The exceptions to the Act are limited to practices that have a discriminating effect which are a related to a business necessity, actions by religious and political groups to further the purpose of that group, and by nationally chartered organizations which independently qualify under one of the Act's exceptions. For more information on the business necessity exception, see D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2503(a); Natural Motion by Sandra v. District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights, 687 A.2d 215 (D.C. 1997); Truitt Management v. District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights, 646 A.2d 1007 (D.C. 1994); Turcios v. United States Services Industries, 680 A.2d 1023 (D.C. 1996). For more information on the religious and political group exception, see D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2503(b). For more information on the nationally chartered organization exception, see Ortner v. Paralyzed Veterans of America, 120 Daily Wash. L. Rep. 193 (D.C. Super. Ct. Sept. 11, 1992).

Education: The provisions of the act pertaining to education specifically prohibit discrimination in education from nursery school through college in all aspects, from academic to vocational training. See D.C. Code Ann. §2-1401.02 (definitions) and 2-1402.41. In general, the Act prohibits the denial or restriction of "the use of, or access to, any of [an institution's] facilities or services to any person otherwise qualified." It is also illegal to inquire about or to keep records of an applicant's race, color, religion, or national origin.

However, educational institutional associated with religious organizations are given an exemption and may deny or restrict funds, services, facilities, or benefits to groups organized for or engaged in "promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief." D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.41. If a religious or political organization is operating the educational institution, they may also give preference in admissions for persons of the same religious or political affiliation as the organization. See D.C. Code Ann. Private schools may also discriminate in admissions on the basis of sex, but the exception is relinquished if there is no other program in the District available to the opposite sex and thus, the school must make the program available to those who are eligible, regardless of sex. See D.C. Code Ann. § 1402.42.

See the Child's Right to Nurse Act for an amendment to the DC Human Rights Act.

Other Relevant Provisions: The Act also has provisions that prevent subterfuge of the purpose of the law and make it unlawful to use coercion or retaliation with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of the rights protected under the law.

Affirmative Action: Affirmative Action plans will be allowed if they receive prior approval from the Office of Human Rights. All loan institutions are required to devise plans to remedy or correct past discriminatory practices.

Importance of Parallel Federal Laws: It is important to be aware of the federal law protections on human rights because they may provide parallel remedies to special D.C. statutes and because the District looks to federal law to interpret its statutes. Important federal statutes include: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Titles VII and IX; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Equal Pay Act; and suits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. (Summaries of these federal laws can be found in our Summary of Federal Laws Governing Independent Colleges and Universities under Employment and Students.)

Case law

Banzhaf v. Garvey;  DC Office of Human Rights.Docket No. 11-343-EI 11/29/11
Professor John Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University, filed a complaint of discrimination on July 8, 2011 against President John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America, in his individual capacity. The complaint alleged that eliminating mixed gender dorms on the CUA campus and requiring students to live in single sex dorms constituted gender discrimination under the DC Human Rights Act. Respondent  requested dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that the University had not engaged in or aided and abetted unlawful sex discrimination by institution of the single sex dorm policy. Respondent also asserted that Title IX allows for same sex dormitories.  The University also asserted that the policy was implemented for legitimate reasons, including to advance the University's religious mission.

The DC Office of Human Rights granted Respondent President Garvey's motion to dismiss, and stated as follows: 

After examining the legislative history of the Act, District case law, Title IX, and other
applicable federal precedent, OHR finds that Complainant fails to state a claim for which relief
can be granted under the Act because same-sex dormitories do not constitute unlawful
discrimination. We hold that the DCHRA does not forbid colleges and universities from making
sex-based distinctions between students. We agree that to follow Complainant's reasoning would
include a prohibition on same-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams, which would lead
to absurd results. ****

Finally, we heavily base our decision on Title IX. This law specifically states that same-sex
housing policies on college campuses do not constitute "discrimination" on "the basis of sex."
See 20 U.S. C.§ 1686.

Fremah Manago v. District of Columbia (934 A. 2d 925, No. 06-CV-1041) Decided Nov. 1, 2007 D.C. Court of Appeals

This case reasserts the long standing policy that judicial intervention in academic matters is not appropriate. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the Trial Court's finding that there had been no violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code 2-1402.41. In this case the plaintiff alleged that the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) had refused to accomodate her disability when the school would not allow her to take a final exam, and advised her to withdraw from a respiratory therapy program. The holding of the court was that the District of Columbia itself was not a proper defendant to student's claims, and instead, the student should have sued the Board of Trustees at the University of the District of Columbia. The court noted as follows with respect to the plaintiff's claim:

In addition to seeking damages, appellant asks that the defendants be ordered to provide "certification in respiratory therapy and the opportunity to take the national certification examination." "This court has recognized that a judgment by school officials that a student has not performed adequately to meet the school's academic standards is a determination that usually calls for judicial deference." Alden v. Georgetown University, 734 A.2d 1103, 1108 (D.C.1999). "This rule of judicial nonintervention is particularly appropriate in the health care field where the students who receive degrees will provide care to the public...." Id. at 1109 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Reference: General inquiries can be made to the D.C. Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development, 441 4th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 724-1385.







updated 1/6/12 to add Banzhaf