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Top New York City law firm to deny employment over pro-Palestine protests

Participation in a protest is enough to disqualify an applicant under Sullivan & Cromwell's new employment policy

Participation in Gaza solidarity protests and student groups could become a disqualifying factor for applicants at a prominent Wall Street law firm, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The 145-year-old law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, which employs close to 900 lawyers and has had Amazon and Goldman Sachs among its clients, has hired the background check company HireRight to assess an applicant's participation record in pro-Palestinian protests and student groups.

HireRight will scour a candidate's social media profiles alongside news reports and footage from protests. Applicants will also be asked to list student groups they have joined. 

Based on the materials found, the firm has the right to refuse employment. 

Using a private background check company to ensure compliance with existing workplace prohibitions on hate speech is not an uncommon practice in the US, only a handful of restrictions are in place to prevent discrimination.

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The case of Sullivan & Cromwell, however, sets a new precedent, since it is the mere involvement in a protest that is enough to hold an applicant accountable, even if no problematic language was used by the candidate itself. 

Under the firm's new policy, it is enough if the slogan, "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free", was chanted at a protest that the applicant attended. 

Sullivan & Cromwell did not reportedly disclose whether the firm has already dropped candidates because of the policy.

Consequences

After the background check is performed, and material that Sullivan & Cromwell considers to be objectionable is found, the candidate will be asked to explain their role in the protest, including what efforts the candidate engaged in to prevent others from making offensive or harassing statements, a New York Times article published on Tuesday says.

No other law firm on Wall Street has publicly discussed a similar policy toward protesters, but several have considered adopting similar rules.

"Disqualifying people based on what someone else nearby may have been doing seems to characterize all protesters as having a single mindset," Roderick A Ferguson, a Yale professor of American studies, told The New York Times. 

"Such thinking can mimic racist thinking, sexist thinking, homophobic thinking, that one instance becomes a character of all."

Over the last couple of months, several reports have emerged of employees losing their jobs, or job offers being rescinded over their actions or statements regarding the war in Gaza. Faculty members at various colleges across the US have been fired, suspended or removed from the classroom for speech expressing solidarity with Palestine. 

Last October, The Washington Post reported an incident in which a New York University law student was faced with a job offer being rescinded due to a letter she wrote to the Bar Association saying that Israel bears responsibility for the war in Gaza. 

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