The University is petitioning the D.C. Superior Court to expand the applicant pool for a more than $100,000 scholarship donation originally designated only for Protestant white males.
GW received the $120,000 donation through the trust of Robert Bond Gotta, a former GW Law School student who specified in his will that the funds go toward “Protestant, white, male students, studying to become career employees in the United States Foreign Diplomatic Service,” according to court documents.
Gotta enrolled in the law school in 1911 but withdrew in 1912. He died in 1974 and, following the deaths of the recipients of his estate, his will dictated the remainder of his trust filter toward different organizations, including GW.
The University is asking for the court to omit the race, color and sex-based restrictions to comply with education laws, as well as to extend the terms to include government fields similar to foreign diplomatic service.
The federal Title IX gender equality law and the D.C. Human Rights Act both prohibit the University from discriminating based on sex, race, religion or color.
University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said, while GW does not comment on pending litigation, sometimes donors do place restrictions, including race, national origin or religion, on eligibility for the scholarships they are funding.
“The University evaluates each scholarship bequest individually in order to consider both the donor’s intent and applicable law,” she said.
Law school professor Robert Tuttle said the University’s request is not uncommon, and is more of an effort to “get the paperwork straight” to begin doling out the funds fairly.
Trusts intended for charity that have illegal terms may be altered so the donation both complies with the law and match the donor’s charitable purpose, according to a legal doctrine called cy-près.
“Charities have an obligation to do what GW’s doing, and courts are very receptive to it,” Tuttle said.
Individuals who donate to nonprofits intend to provide a public benefit, despite more specific instructions for the gift, and courts usually follow through to alter the restrictions, he added.