November 13, 2009
By ABDON M. PALLASCH
Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter
CHICAGO--A federal appellate court today revived a Jewish family's lawsuit against a Chicago condominium association that repeatedly removed a mezuzah from the family's doorpost.
Some observant Jewish families believe they must pay respect to the small symbol upon entering their home.
The ruling vindicates federal appellate Judge Diane Wood, a former colleague of President Obama who has been on his shortlist for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though criticized by conservatives as "hostile to religious rights," it was Wood's impassioned dissent in this case that the appellate court relied on to revive the Bloch family's claim of religious discrimination.
Two of Wood's more conservative colleagues on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals -- Frank Easterbrook and William Bauer -- had earlier voted 2-1, prevailing over Wood on a three-judge panel, to dismiss the claim, arguing, among other reasons, that the federal Fair Housing Act, under which the lawsuit was brought, cannot be used to allege discrimination after a condominium is sold.
Today's ruling by eight of the court's judges reversed that finding and said the FHA can apply to alleged discrimination after a sale.
The court did not rule that The Shoreline Towers Condominium Association and its president, Edward Frischholz discriminated against the Bloch family, but the court said the Blochs offered enough evidence that a jury ought to be able to hear the case.
"Frischholz knew that Lynne Bloch would be offended by removing mezuzot from her doorposts. Still, he approved of their repeated removal," Judge John Tinder wrote. "When she confronted him about it, he retaliated. He accused Lynne of being a racist, called her a liar, encouraged other tenants not to elect her to the Board, and told her that if she didn't like the Association's taking down her mezuzot, she should "get out."
Frischholz admitted an a deposition that he scheduled board meetings on Friday nights when he knew Bloch would not be able to attend for religious reasons.
"It is fair to infer that Frischholz scheduled the meetings on Friday nights with Judaism in mind," Tinder wrote.
But "the strongest evidence of anti-Semitic motives" Tinder wrote was that "the defendants waited until the family literally was attending Dr. Bloch's funeral and then removed the mezuzot while everyone was away," Tinder wrote, quoting Woods' dissent.
A coat rack and a were left in the hallway even though the Mezuzah was taken down. That seems to argue against the condominium's argument that the no-decorations rule was religiously neutral, applying to Chicago Bears penants as much as Mezuzah, Tinder wrote.
The case now goes back to trial.
"So the Blochs must proceed on a showing of intentional discrimination," Tinder wrote. "Although the Blochs' case is no slam dunk, we think the record contains sufficient evidence, with reasonable inferences drawn in the Blochs' favor, that there are genuine issues for trial on intentional discrimination."
Wood taught with Obama at the University of Chicago Law School and was one of three judges he invited to the White House for interviews before settling on Judge Sonia Sotomayor for his first Supreme Court pick.