BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The president of a private Baptist college in Louisiana refused to approve a football coach’s hiring because of what he called the applicant’s “Jewish blood,” a federal lawsuit claims.
Joshua Bonadona sued Louisiana College and its president, Rick Brewer, on Wednesday, accusing them of violating his civil rights.
The 28-year-old graduate of Louisiana College says he applied for a job as defensive backs coach at his alma mater and was interviewed last May by Brewer and the Pineville school’s head football coach, Justin Charles. The head coach later told Bonadona that he had recommended him for the job, but the college didn’t approve his hiring because of his “Jewish descent,” the suit alleges.
“Mr. Bonadona asked Justin Charles what that meant, and Justin Charles stated that Dr. Brewer refused to approve Mr. Bonadona’s hiring because of what Dr. Brewer called Mr. Bonadona’s ‘Jewish blood,'” the suit says.
Brewer didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
Charles, who is not named as a defendant or accused of any wrongdoing in the lawsuit, said in an email Thursday that he is “not at liberty to comment on this matter.”
Bonadona subsequently took a coaching job at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, for less money than Louisiana College would have paid him, the suit says.
Bonadona’s attorney, James Bullman, said private religious institutions like Louisiana College can be legally entitled to make employment decisions based on the religion of a job applicant or employee. But people of Jewish heritage are protected as a “distinct race” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and federal law prohibits employers from failing to hire somebody on the basis of race, the lawsuit says.
“This case has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Josh’s Jewish heritage and racial background,” Bullman said.
Bonadona, a Baton Rouge native, was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity during his time as a Louisiana College student and kicker on the school’s football team. He often led the football team’s “Christian devotional,” but it was a “widely known fact” on campus that his mother was Jewish, the lawsuit says.
Louisiana College hired him to be an assistant football coach after his December 2013 graduation, but he resigned in 2015 to pursue a graduate degree and take a coaching job at Southeast Missouri State University. He resigned from that job last year after Charles assured him that Louisiana College would hire him again, the suit says.
During the job interview in May, Brewer asked Bonadona about his parents’ religious affiliations, the suit says. Bonadona told him his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish.
“During the interview, Mr. Bonadona repeatedly made it clear that he was a practicing member of the Christian faith,” the suit says.
Brewer has been Louisiana College’s president since 2015. His biography on the college’s website says he is an ordained Baptist minister.
One of Brewer’s predecessors, Joe Aguillard, sued the school in December after filing a previous complaint that accused Louisiana College of discriminating against him based on his religion. Aguillard’s federal lawsuit claims Brewer forced him out of his job as president emeritus in retaliation for Aguillard’s opposition to the school’s “unlawful discrimination and actions.”