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A federal district court judge has denied Louisiana College's attempt to throw out a discrimination lawsuit filed by an alumnus who says he was denied employment because of his Jewish heritage.

After Jason Bonadona was interviewed and recommended for a football coaching position at Louisiana College in 2017, President Rick Brewer said he did not want to hire Bonadona because of his "Jewish blood," according to the lawsuit Bonadona filed under Title VII of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act, which says employers cannot deny employment to someone based on their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Louisiana College tried to dismiss the case on technical grounds, arguing that Bonadona’s Jewish heritage does not qualify as a race or national origin under Title VII.

Judge Mark Hornsby thought otherwise, and wrote in a recommendation on Friday that Bonadona, and Jewish people generally, are protected under Title VII.

"America is no stranger to anti-Semitism, which is often rooted in prejudice against a person based on his heritage/ethnicity without regard to the person’s particular religious beliefs," Hornsby wrote in his recommendation. "Jewish citizens have been excluded from certain clubs or neighborhoods, and they have been denied jobs and other opportunities based on the fact that they were Jewish, with no particular concern as to a given individual’s religious leanings. Thus, they have been treated like a racial or ethnic group that Title VII was designed to protect from employment discrimination based on membership in that group."

James Bullman, Bonadona's lawyer, emphasized the recommendation's historic significance.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” Bullman said. “It’s a well thought out, reasoned opinion. It’s the first time that a court has extended, or even frankly dealt with, the issue of providing racial protection to Jews under Title VII.”

In an email, Brewer said the college does not agree with the ruling and that Hornsby "may have committed an error of law" by determining that Jewish heritage qualifies as a race under Title VII. 

"The ruling did not involve any findings of fact or weigh the complaint's merits -- it assumed the allegations to be true for purposes of the motion," Brewer wrote. "The allegations are false and vehemently denied."

Bonadona was born to a Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother and was raised culturally and religiously Jewish. He converted to Christianity when he attended the private, Baptist Louisiana College from 2010 to 2013.

As described in the judge's recommendation, "while [Bonadona] was playing football for LC, his family, chiefly his mother, became active supporters of the team. It was ‘a widely known fact’ that [Bonadona’s] mother, Miriam, was Jewish and that [Bonadona] was of Jewish heritage. [Bonadona], however, had converted to Christianity, often led the team’s Christian devotional, and made it known to the team and coach that he had converted to Christianity.”

Bonadona worked as an assistant football coach at Louisiana College for two years after graduating in 2013. He resigned to pursue a graduate degree and coach football at Southeast Missouri State University.

When Justin Charles was hired as Louisiana’s head football coach in 2017, he reached out to Bonadona and asked him to return as defensive backs coach. Bonadona applied for the job and emphasized his Christian faith in his application. He was asked for an interview with Charles and Brewer. During the interview, Brewer asked Bonadona about his parents' religious affiliations.

After the interview, Charles recommended Bonadona for the position and told him the job “was his” pending approval from Brewer. A week later, Charles told Bonadona that Brewer had denied him for the position because of what Brewer called “Bonadona’s Jewish blood.

When asked about the allegation, Brewer denied ever using the phrase "Jewish blood" and said that Bonadona's Jewish heritage was not why he was denied the position.

"No such basis exists for our decision to not hire Mr. Bonadona, who was not the best candidate for the position," Brewer wrote. "And the use of the term 'jewish blood' [sic] seemingly was placed in the complaint for inflammatory purposes -- there are no facts to support these allegations and which will be proved to be a blatant falsehood."

Louisiana College intends to file an objection to the judge's recommendation, and Brewer said via email that officials at the college "look forward to defending these unmerited claims/falsehoods and the dismissal of the lawsuit."

Bullman said that he and Bonadona plan to continue with discovery and deposition. He is “highly optimistic” about the outcome of the case.

“Once the jury hears the facts of this case, there’s little doubt that they’ll turn a verdict in his favor,” he said.

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