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Largest Ever Settlement Reached in Hazing Case

By Tim Burke (Fraternal Law)

David Bogenberger died on November 1, 2012 of alcohol poisoning following what was reported to have been an “event at an off-campus fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, where fraternity members and members of various sororities hosted ‘Mom and Dad’s Night’.” Pledges were required to answer questions and drink vodka. Tests following Bogenberger’s death showed a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit for a driver to be considered under the influence of alcohol.

It took 6 years, but at the end of November 2018, it was announced that the lawsuit that followed Bogenberger’s death had been settled for what is claimed to be the largest amount ever in a hazing case, fourteen million dollars. The lawsuit may also have had the largest number of individual defendants in a hazing death case. In addition to naming the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity and its chapter at Northern Illinois University (NIU), 22 members of the chapter were named, specifically including many of its officers, and 22 individual sorority women who were alleged to have some role in the activities which lead to the death.

22 members of the fraternity had been found guilty of misdemeanors, ordered to pay fines of between $500-$1000, perform 100 hours of community service, and spend 24 months on either supervision or conditional discharge.

In January of 2018, the Supreme Court of Illinois released a decision that may very well have set up the case for settlement. The Court affirmed the earlier dismissal of the International Fraternity but it also affirmed a lower appellate court’s reversal of the trial court’s dismissal of the local chapter and its officers, pledge board members, and active members and reversed the dismissal of then on-member sorority women. That decision effectively put all of the individual defendants back in play in the case and undoubtedly, in the process, those individuals ‘parents’ homeowners policies as well as the insurance policy covering the chapter.

 A November 30 Chicago Tribune Article quoted Attorney Michael Borders who had represented the former president of the Pi Kappa Alpha Chapter at NIU. While he refused to discuss how much his client had paid toward the settlement-undoubtedly there is a confidentiality agreement with regards to… Read Full Story

Two Lawsuits Filed Against Harvard

By Tim Burke (Fraternal Law)

On December 3, 2018, two separate lawsuits, one in federal court and one in state court, were filed against Harvard by several Fraternities and Sororities. The suits challenge Harvard’s controversial decision to penalize students who chose to be members of single- sex organizations, whether they are men’s or women’s Greek social groups or unique Finals Clubs composed of Harvard students. Harvard’s position is that the students who choose to belong to single sex organizations, effective with the class of 2021, will be prohibited from holding leadership positions in many University Supported Organizations including being captains of athletic teams or from receiving critical University support for certain fellowships such as Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships.

While initially these penalties were explained by the University as a way of addressing sexual assaults it alleged to have occurred at Finals Clubs events

Facing threats of discipline by the University, some Finals Clubs became co-ed, and some Greek organizations simply closed their chapters. While the initial justification for the University position was to address assaults against women, the effect of the policy was that the safe spaces many women found in single sex Greek organizations were eliminated. The lawsuits are a direct challenge to the University position on multiple fronts and allege a variety of illegalities by Harvard.

 The state court case, provides those protections by reference, stating:

Were Single-Sex Fraternities Bullied off Campus at UMW?

By: Susan C. Stone & Kristina W. Supler
Student & Athlete Defense/Title IX Practice Group
Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, LLP;

College campuses have long been known as incubators for political values. From 1960s sit-ins against the Vietnam War to high-profile rape culture debates on campus, the world of higher education is often home to activism. Like-minded students have a way of finding each other and creating ways to champion their shared beliefs. Whether it’s through social interest groups, athletic teams, or Greek organizations, students should be free to explore and cultivate interests and hobbies, while also respecting those with different viewpoints. 

Recently, the case Feminist Majority Foundation v. University of Mary Washington (“UMW”) sparked national debate about the scope of First Amendment protections on college campuses when UMW was asked to quash speech to uphold its Title IX obligations. Egregious facts punctuate the UMW case — beginning because one student organization wanted to prevent the lawful formation of single-sex social fraternities.

In 2014, the school’s student senate voted to allow male-only fraternities on campus. Amid this decision, the student group Feminists United allied against Greek life coming to campus, argued that fraternities would bring about an increase in campus sexual assault. Heated deliberation among the student body unfolded on the now-defunct social media app Yik Yak. The debate spiraled and members of Feminists United found themselves subject to vulgar and sexist threats by anonymous students. Members of the school’s rugby team went so far as to create a video in which they chanted in favor of sexual violence against Feminists United. Instead of pointing out the flaws and factual inaccuracies posed by Feminists United members, the rugby players advocated for sexual brutality, eventually losing their own right to remain on campus. 

Feminists United repeatedly communicated with UMW’s Title IX office to express their growing concerns about their safety following the number of threatening Yik Yak messages. A debate ensued concerning whether UMW did enough to protect the members of Feminists United. The Title IX coordinator was maligned for indicating that the University was powerless to address the offending conduct and the school’s president, Richard Hurley, was similarly criticized for being ineffective at managing the situation. However, at some point, UMW disbanded the rugby team… Read Full Story

Lawsuit Filed Following Criminal Plea Bargain

By Katherine Schoepflin (Fraternal Law)

The former President of the Phi Delta Theta Chapter at Baylor University and the National Fraternity are being sued for $1 million dollars following a plea deal stemming from a 2016 sexual assault case. The deal guaranteed no jail time for the accused.

Former Chapter President Jacob Anderson was accused by a then sophomore known only as Donna Doe of sexually assaulting her at a fraternity party in 2016 and leaving her “to die face down in her own vomit”. Anderson entered into a plea on December 11, 2018. Under the terms of the plea, Anderson will serve 3 years of probation and pay a $400 fine, but will not have to register as a sex offender and will not face jail time. Since Anderson plead no contest to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint instead of sexual assault and did not go to trial, there is a chance the charge will never appear on his record.

Donna Doe says this verdict isn’t enough to get justice for what happened to her, or to protect other women in the future. Donna has filed a lawsuit against Anderson and Phi Delta Theta and is expected to seek damages of $1 million. Doe has named 26 defendants, including all the officers of the Chapter, in the suit which alleges, among other things, that the Fraternity did not have policies or procedures in place to monitor the alcohol consumption of guests, knowingly served alcohol to minors, and did not have a policy in place for preventing or reporting sexual assaults.

Doe is also suing the landlord who owns the house, Jennette Hunicutt, who she claims knew the house was being used as a fraternity house- something Baylor does not allow.

Fraternal Law will continue to monitor and report on this case as it further develops.

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K-12 case with potential future implications for Greek Groups

By Ilana Linder (Fraternal Law)

Although it is uncommon for Fraternal Law, or higher education law more generally, to intersect with K-12 education law, there are some interesting takeaways that can be gleaned from public school cases. One such example is a recent case out of Vermont, where the parents of a high school football player who committed suicide after being physically assaulted by teammates sought to hold their son’s school district liable for his death.

Over a year before the student, Jordan Preavy, transferred to a different high school in the district, numerous reports surfaced of verbal harassment in the form of homophobic comments among other football players. The school district immediately and appropriately responded to these reports, and the verbal assaults eventually ceased before Jordan switched schools.

Upon transferring to his new school and joining that school’s football team, Jordan was subjected to at least one instance of physical assault resembling hazing behaviors. Specifically, one player forcibly held Jordan down while another assaulted him with a broomstick by jabbing it at his buttocks through his clothing. Approximately one year after this incident, Jordan took his own life. Jordan never reported the incident to his family or the school. However, several months after Jordan’s death, the school learned not only of this particular incident, but also became aware that other occurrences of physical and/or sexual assault prevalent among the sports teams.

Jordan’s family argued that the school district breached the duty it owed to Jordan by failing to protect him from a foreseeable harm. They pointed to the prior verbal assault incidents as sufficient notice to make the physical assault(s) foreseeable. However, both the trial and state Supreme Courts disagreed. To the contrary, knowledge that football players were making homophobic comments to each other, with no accompanying physical contact, did not put the school on notice of any predictable assault. Furthermore, the occurrence of other physical assaults in the interim was deemed irrelevant to the school’s duty; because the school was not aware of the occurrences, it did not have any opportunity to intervene until after it was too late. Moreover, the Court rejected plaintiff’s claim that the increase in school bullying/harassment nationally or on other school campuses, without more, constituted evidence of such foreseeability…. Read Full Story

Investigation into Tragic Death of Ohio University Student focuses on Hazing

By Katherine Schoepflin (Fraternal Law)

Hazing is in the headlines once again, and this time all eyes are on Ohio University. OU has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Epsilon Chapter of the Sigma Pi Fraternity after the death of 18 year-old pledge Collin Wiant.

Wiant was pronounced dead on Monday, November 12, 2018 after he was found unconscious at an off campus apartment believed to be an unofficial, and unsanctioned, annex of the Sigma Pi Chapter House. According to University Spokesperson Carly Leatherwood, such “annex houses” are not recognized by the University.

Following Wiant’s death, the University Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility issued a cease-and-desist letter ordering the Chapter to stop all operations, official and unofficial,immediately out of what they called “an abundance of caution”. The letter states that the Office had received information that the Chapter had “engaged in conduct that put the health and safety of its members at risk and did not comply with the student code of conduct”. It also instructed the Chapter’s President, Elijah Wahib, to disclose a full list of members, potential new members or pledges, and any pledges no longer in the process of joining the Chapter. The letter said failure to comply would result in “both individual and organizational charges”.

An investigation into these alleged violations and the death of Collin Wiant are still ongoing. Carly Leatherwood says pending the outcome of these investigations, the University has no current plan to address these off campus “annex-houses”.

Fraternal Law will continue to monitor these developments.

Stankiewicz, Kevin, and Sheridan Hendrix. “Ohio University Shuts down Fraternity as Police Probe Pledge’s off-Campus Death.” The Columbus Dispatch, The Columbus Dispatch, 15 Nov. 2018,

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Florida Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Hazing Statute

By Tim Burke (Fraternal Law)

Robert Champion, the drum major of the Florida A & M “Marching 100” band, died in November of 2011 following his participation in the hazing ritual known as “Crossing Bus C”. Those who “crossed” from the front to the back of the bus were beaten as they did so.  7 years later questions around the Florida hazing statute under which prosecutions related to the death occurred have finally been resolved.

Dante Martin, the apparent ringleader in overseeing Champion’s “crossing”, had been convicted of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in death, and two counts of misdemeanor hazing. He was sentenced to 6½ years in jail. He had challenged his convictions arguing that the Florida hazing statue was unconstitutionally over broad and void-for-vagueness. On December 13,2018 the Florida Supreme Court rejected these arguments and upheld his conviction. 

The Florida definition law defines hazing as:  

Any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for purposes including, but not limited to, initiation or admission to or affiliation with any organization operation under the sanctions of a post secondary institution. ‘Hazing’ includes, but is not limited to, pressuring or coercing the student into violating State or Federal Law, any brutality of a physical nature such as whipping, beating, branding, exposure to the element,forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance or other forced physical activity that would adversely affect the physical health or safety of the student, and also includes any activity that would subject the student to extreme mental distress such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment,or other forced activity that could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the student. Hazing does not include customary athletic events or other similar contests or competitions or any activity or conduct that furthers a legal or legitimate objective.

Separate sub sections of the Florida hazing law make it a criminal third degree felony to recklessly or intentionally commit any act of hazing which results in seriously bodily injury or death or a first degree misdemeanor if that conduct creates a substantial risk of bodily injury or death.

Lawsuit Filed After Tragic Death of Northwestern Student

By Ilana Linder (Fraternal Law)

The mother of Jordan Hankins, a Northwestern University basketball player and Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) pledge who committed suicide, has filed suit against AKA National, the local chapters, and several individuals, seeking to hold the defendants responsible for her daughter’s death. According to the Complaint filed earlier this month, Jordan was subjected to severe hazing by AKA that triggered her PTSD and caused her severe anxiety and depression, despite the existence of AKA’s anti-hazing policy. Moreover, the Complaint alleges that Jordan notified members of the sorority that the hazing activities were triggering her mental distress, she was having suicidal thoughts, and had a plan to commit suicide, but the hazing did not cease.

This case is particularly interesting because it involves a plaintiff’s attempt to hold the sorority wholly responsible for Jordan’s mental health issues that drove her to commit suicide. It is unclear from the Complaint whether the hazing alone triggered Jordan’s issues or whether there were pre-existing conditions, or other contributing factors (such as stress from being a collegiate athlete) at play. Moreover, aside from the claim that Jordan informed AKA about how the hazing was affecting her mental health, it is unclear whether Jordan’s suicide was truly foreseeable by any of the defendants.

Fraternal Law will continue to monitor this case as it proceeds.

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Male Assailants Claim Victimization Against Their Universities

By Ilana Linder (Fraternal Law)

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of lawsuits filed by male students against their universities in which a claim of gender bias in the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations has been asserted. These suits are typically filed after the male students were found responsible for sexually assaulting females on campus. More specifically, the accused men posit that their universities not only failed to properly investigate their own allegations of sexual assault committed by females (e.g. the males are also victims of sexual assault), but also that the schools were under pressure to aggressively prosecute sexual assaults due to ongoing federal investigations of Title IX non-compliance.

For example, in 2016, after a former resident assistant at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) was accused of sexual misconduct by another (female) student, the University decided to suspend the student and evict him from his student housing. While suspended, the male student informed the University that a (female) student had assaulted him. No investigation into the male student’s allegations was conducted by the University. A hearing panel ultimately found the student responsible for sexual misconduct, and he was therefore expelled and banned from the University.

When IUPUI denied the student’s appeal of the expulsion and ban, the student brought suit against the University and several administrators, asserting several claims. Although the court granted IUPUI’s motion to dismiss all of the students’ procedural due process claims,it did find that the student’s Title IX claim against the University was sufficient to survive dismissal. Here, the student maintained that the University engaged in selective, gender-based enforcement of Title IX against him when it failed to properly investigate the misconduct claims he raised about another student. The student pointed to the fact that Indiana University was under ongoing federal investigation for how it handled sexual violence cases at the time that he was being investigated.

A nearly identical claim was made by a different male student in a recent complaint filed against Michigan State University (MSU). In this case, the student was also found responsible for sexually assaulting a female student and was subsequently suspended by MSU. Unlike the IUPUI student, however, this male student did not formally report… Read Full Story

Who is discriminating against whom?

By Ilana Linder (Fraternal Law)

Over a year ago, a small student group that was deregistered by its university filed a lawsuit against the school. Just last month, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, filing a brief in support of the student group.

The group, Business Leaders in Christ, claims that the University of Iowa violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when it withheld university recognition to the group on account of the group’s belief statement all members must subscribe to. Specifically, the belief statement, which the University deems “unwelcoming” and therefore impermissible, contains language explicitly supporting heterosexual relationships. Importantly, however, the group does not limit its membership to individuals who identify as heterosexual. Indeed, homosexual individuals—so long as they also agree to subscribe to the group’s statement—could theoretically be members of the group. As such, the group is not engaging in any status-based discrimination. In fervently supporting the student group’s position,the Department of Justice highlights the University’s inconsistent regulation of different student groups, which, according to the DOJ, has resulted in a disparate treatment of similarly-situated student groups. Specifically, the DOJ criticizes the University for cherry-picking which groups’ beliefs it wishes to allow and which it seeks to condemn. Such viewpoint discrimination not only runs contrary to the law, but also to the very notion of our schools serving as the primary exposure of young minds to the marketplace of ideas.

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