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Transgender man tries to join sorority at Northwestern, pushes for change in Greek life

Northwestern University freshman who recently came out as transgender tried to join a sorority this month, yearning for deeper friendships on campus.

The case is unusual because the student is a transgender man, born with a female body but identifying as male, and already beginning to make that transition. Eighteen-year-old Adam Davies said he was drawn to the tenets of Greek life — philanthropy, bonding and leadership — but that with his changing body he might not feel comfortable living in a fraternity.  Click here for link to full story. . .

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Texas District Court Blocks Overtime Rule

Click here for full opinion.

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Indiana Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Claims in Yost v. Wabash, et al.

In a closely watched case, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wabash College and Phi Kappa Psi, dismissing all claims against these two defendants.  Brian Yost, a Wabash freshman and Phi Kappa Psi pledge, alleged that he was injured in September 2007 during a hazing incident inside the chapter house.  Mr. Yost sued several parties including the national Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.  The claims against the national fraternity rested upon two theories of liability, namely (i) breach of an assumed duty of care to protect its pledges and (ii) an agency theory in which the chapter acted as an agent of the national fraternity rendering the national fraternity liable for the negligence of the chapter.  Phi Kappa Psi moved for summary judgment.

Yost resisted summary judgment asserting that because the national fraternity promulgated behavioral guidelines, engaged in educational outreach regarding alcohol abuse and hazing, and made efforts to discourage hazing, the national fraternity could be found to have assumed a duty or appointed the chapter as its agent to ensure the success of its educational programming.  The trial court granted Phi Psi’s motion for judgment, a decision upheld by the court of appeals.

The Indiana Supreme Court accepted the case for further review, handing down its decision on February 13, 2014.  In affirming the decisions of the trial court and court of appeals, the Indiana Supreme Court confirmed that by simply creating behavioral expectations and educating members, a national fraternity does not become a guarantor of its members’ compliance with these aspirational goals.  While the decision is consistent with a long line of Indiana case law, the decision is important in light of another pending Indiana case, Smith v. Delta Tau Delta, et al.  In Smith, a different panel of the court of appeals denied summary judgment to Delta Tau Delta on very similar facts, holding that educational programs and a retrospective enforcement mechanism could create liability under assumption of duty and agency liability theories.  Delta Tau Delta appealed the Smith decision to the Indiana Supreme Court, though the Court has not yet decided to accept transfer.  Fraternal Law Partners filed an amicus brief in support of transfer on behalf of several women’s groups.

Please click below for an article from The Indiana Lawyer exploring the case in more detail.

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Smith v. Delta Tau Delta Amicus Brief

Fraternal Law Partners filed an Amicus Brief in Smith v. Delta Tau Delta on behalf of 23 national and international women’s organizations.  The case involves a wrongful death claim against Delta Tau Delta national fraternity, among others, after the alcohol-related death of a Delta Tau Delta pledge at Wabash College.  Procedurally, the trial court granted Delta Tau Delta’s motion for summary judgment that (i) Delta Tau Delta did not assume a duty of care to the plaintiff and (ii) no agency relationship existed between Delta Tau Delta and the Wabash chapter.  The Indiana court of appeals reversed relying on evidence that Delta Tau Delta “promulgated rules and enforcement procedures focused on hazing and alcohol abuse”.  Smith v. Delta Tau Delta, et al, 988 N.E.2d at 337. For more information regarding the Court of Appeal’s decision please see the article titled “Smith v. Delta Tau Delta” in the May 2013 issue of Fraternal Law.  To read the brief in full, please click the “Read Full Story” link below.

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Faculty research on hazing at FAMU potentially groundbreaking

This linked article is an in-depth look at what efforts exist to combat hazing generally, and specifically examines the steps undertaken by FAMU in the wake of the Robert Champion hazing death in 2011.  The article discusses academic work focusing on hazing at Alford University in New York, as well as the Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention at the University of Maine which is headed up by Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden.  The article also discusses the efforts of hazingprevention.org, quoting our own Sean Callan, a partner at Fraternal Law Partners and an HPO board member.  You can read the full article written by Doug Blackburn of the Tallahassee Democrat by clicking the link below.

 

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Yost v. Wabash, et al.; Hazing suit weighs college, fraternity liability

The Greek community works diligently to eliminate hazing; these efforts are laudable and effective.  However, the plaintiff’s bar has consistently tried to use these anti-hazing efforts as the linchpin to an argument that by enacting these very same anti-hazing efforts, the national organization has somehow become a guarantor of every individual’s well-being.  That is not reasonable, or fair when considered.

In Yost v. Wabash, the Court recognized this fundamental tension, stating “ we recognize the untenable situation that can be created when colleges and fraternities attempt to deal with potentially dangerous activities by promulgating rules, only to have the enactment and enforcement of those rules thrown back at them as an assumption of duty.”  (p.36).  This is an absolutely correct analysis.  The idea that a national fraternity assumes a duty of care to each of its members by virtue of prohibiting dangerous conduct cannot be the rule of law.  I find it refreshing that this Court agreed.

The opinion also contains an analysis of the Indiana hazing statute.  The discussion of hazing itself and whether the activity in this case (forcibly taking pledge into shower) legally constituted hazing turned on an interpretation of the Indiana hazing statute.   In this case, the statute requires that the activity be forced upon the victim as a condition of membership.  This is not required in other states.  Based upon this statutory definition, and the developed facts, the showering activity was simply not imposed as a condition of membership.

Click here for an article from the Indiana Lawyer analyzing the case.

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Clearing up Hazing; Opponents are pushing for stronger laws

Back in college, Frederica Wilson earned the nickname the Haze Buster while serving as a regional director for her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Looking at the college hazing problem today, she says “it’s almost as if the college campuses give a license to kill, inadvertently, without meaning to.”

Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman representing South Florida, planned to introduce a bill—the Halting Hazing Act of 2012—last month amid an anti-hazing event scheduled in Washington, D.C. She aims to make hazing a federal offense resulting in the loss of financial aid to students involved.

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Judge dismisses parents’ suit against University of Idaho

A District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the University of Idaho filed by the parents of a student who fell from a fraternity window three years ago.

Amanda Andaverde, then a 19-year-old sophomore, suffered debilitating injuries when she slipped from an upper-story window and fell 25 feet to the concrete below at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Her parents were seeking damages, and recently offered to settle the case for $1 million. The university declined.

In a written decision, 2nd District Court Judge Michael Griffin granted the UI’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the claim. Griffin said the university did not have what the law calls a “special duty to aid or protect” Andaverde under the circumstances of the case.

“The plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, to establish that the University owed a duty to Ms. Andaverde,” Griffin wrote. “Without such a showing the plaintiffs’ claim of negligence would not be meritorious.”

Warren Dowdle, the Boise attorney representing Andaverde, said a decision on whether to appeal will be made after consultation with her family.

Legal claims against Andaverde’s former sorority, Delta Delta Delta, the fraternity, and several unnamed individuals are still pending. Dowdle declined comment on the future of those actions.

In a hearing earlier this month, Dowdle argued the UI was liable for Andaverde’s injuries because it oversees the campus Greek system, and works with it on safety issues. Dowdle also said the university encourages students to live in fraternities and sororities, has the ability to enforce sanctions against them, and maintains policies against underage drinking.

Lewiston attorney Ted Creason, representing the university and co-defendant the Idaho State Board of Education, argued the UI can’t control the lives of its students. He said Andaverde was acting as an adult when she chose to consume alcohol on the night of her fall, and the parties she attended were in privately owned Greek residences.

Griffin cited those arguments in his decision.

“The court concludes that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that the University and Board of Education did not have legal duty, nor assume a duty to protect Ms. Andaverde from consuming alcohol, or protect or keep her safe from any unsafe living conditions at the SAE sleeping porch on the night of September 9th and the early morning of September 10th, 2009,” he wrote.

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Top 25 Lists: The Daily Beast = WTF?

Let the debate begin.  As pointed out in this piece, rankings are always debatable…..

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College Rankings 2012: Top Fraternities

Congratulations to the top-ranked fraternities as ranked by Newsweek and the Daily Beast!

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