The D.C. Office of Human Rights, seeking to give "full force and effect" to a recent D.C. Court of Appeals decision, has launched a major investigation of Georgetown University's treatment of homosexual student groups, the agency's director, Maudine R. Cooper, announced yesterday.
Cooper said that if the city agency finds discrimination against the homosexual groups, it might seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of university property and the occupancy permits for university buildings.
"We're not going to continue to condone and support an entity that violates the law and then receives the largess of the city," Cooper said at a news conference in her office. "If Georgetown is going to accept benefits from the entire city, then they should comply with the laws of the city."
Gary Krull, Georgetown's public relations director, said the university was surprised at Cooper's announcement, which he said was made before university officials had received a letter informing them of the investigation. He said Georgetown had offered the homosexual groups four specific "tangible benefits" mentioned in the appeals court decision, including the opportunity to apply for university funds.
In late November, after seven years of legal wrangling, the appeals court ruled that under the D.C. Human Rights Act Georgetown is required to give equal treatment to homosexual student groups, although it does not have to "officially recognize" them.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court twice rejected Georgetown's request to stay the decision. The university said compliance with the ruling would "violate its conscience" as a Roman Catholic institution because church teachings condemn homosexual acts.
The university has not yet decided whether to file a formal request for Supreme Court review. The high court has given it until April 1 to do so.
Yesterday Cooper said she decided to carry out "a full-scale investigation . . . over the next 30 days" because "it's time to stop the procrastination."
Cooper said a Georgetown law student and two undergraduates had complained to the agency in the last few weeks that "Georgetown continues to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation." She declined to identify the students or the specifics of their complaint.
After the investigation, in which Cooper said four agency staff members will conduct interviews and examine records, she said she might file a formal charge against the university. Under agency procedures, that would trigger a second investigation by her office, in which Georgetown officials "would be allowed to come in and refute the charges," she said.
Cooper said she then might find "probable cause to believe" that Georgetown has discriminated. After that, she said the university might lose city licenses for dormitories, dining halls and the campus pub and other "public benefits." She said it would have 30 days to reach a conciliation agreement or face a public hearing before the 15-member D.C. Human Rights Commission, which can issue a final ruling.
Because of the university's refusal to treat its gay organizations like other student groups, the D.C. government has refused to approve $200 million in tax-exempt bonds for the university.
Yesterday Laura Foggan, an attorney for the homosexual students, said the student government at the law school had approved about $4,000 for the homosexual group there, but she said funds had not yet been released by administrators. A similar request on the main campus is awaiting student government action, she said.