By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice sued Yale University on Thursday, accusing the Ivy League school of illegally discriminating against Asian and white applicants in undergraduate admissions.
The lawsuit escalates the Trump administration's push against affirmative action in admissions to elite universities, after it publicly supported a lawsuit by Asian-American students accusing Harvard University of discriminating against them.
The Justice Department said Asian-American and white applicants were typically only one-eighth to one-fourth as likely to win admission to Yale as similarly qualified Black applicants.
In a complaint filed in the federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, where Yale is based, the Justice Department said Yale's practices violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Yale must comply with that law to receive federal funding, which the government said includes more than $630 million annually from the Department of Health and Human Services alone.
Applicants must be "judged by their character, talents, and achievements and not the color of their skin," said Eric Dreiband, an assistant attorney general for civil rights. "To do otherwise is to permit our institutions to foster stereotypes, bitterness, and division."
Thursday's lawsuit followed a two-year investigation into Yale's practices.
"Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity," and will not change its admissions policies because of the "baseless" lawsuit, its President Peter Salovey said. "We look forward to defending these policies in court."
The school has 6,057 undergraduates, and typically accepts just 6% of applicants for admission.
Harvard is awaiting a decision from the federal appeals court in Boston on its admissions practices.
A federal judge upheld them last year after finding the school had no workable "race-neutral alternatives" to build a diverse student body.
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed race to be used in college admissions to promote diversity in the classroom. Opponents of affirmative action hope the court's conservative majority might end the practice in a future case.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese, Rosalba O'Brien and Diane Craft)