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- Lawsuit Filed against Western Kentucky University and Various Fraternal Defendants: Potential Effects on National and Chapter Liability
Newsletter > June 2022 > "Lawsuit Filed against Western Kentucky University and Various Fraternal Defendants: Potential Effects on National and Chapter Liability"
Lawsuit Filed against Western Kentucky University and Various Fraternal Defendants: Potential Effects on National and Chapter Liability
Haellie Gordon,  Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
On February 7, 2022, Emily Thurman, a student at Western Kentucky University (“WKU”) and member of the Kappa Delta Sorority, filed a complaint in the Warren Circuit Court of Kentucky. The named defendants include WKU, numerous employees, and its Interfraternity Council (collectively, the “WKU Defendants”); Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity (“SigEp”), SigEp’s WKU chapter (“Chapter”) and alumni association, individual fraternity members, and the property owners of the Chapter’s house(s) (collectively, the “SigEp Defendants”); and the Kappa Delta Sorority (“Kappa Delta”) Kappa Delta’s WKU chapter, and individual sorority members (collectively, the “Kappa Delta Defendants”).
The basis of the Complaint rests on alleged events leading up to, during, and following a SigEp party on February 6, 2021. Thurman claims that throughout the night of the party, she was pressured and physically forced to drink alcohol against her will and to the point of intoxication by SigEp member(s). She further asserts that she was sexually assaulted and raped in a WKU dormitory later that night and the following morning by a SigEp member. Additionally, Thurman alleges a “supported and shared mission… to be able to get women drunk at events” between SigEp and Kappa Delta.Further, WKU Defendants are accused of turning a “blind eye to the excessive alcohol consumption at its fraternity parties.”
The Complaint sets forth ten (10) claims against various combinations of defendants. The Plaintiff asserts claims of negligence against WKU Defendants and SigEp Defendants on the basis of various breached duties. These duties include the duty to prevent harm by controlling SigEp members and the duty to not increase risks of harm to the Plaintiff.
Similarly, Thurman brings negligence claims against WKU Defendants and Kappa Delta Defendants for different types of duties that were supposedly breached. Here, those duties allegedly include the duty to warn Thurman of the dangers of sexual predators, sexual exploitation, forced alcohol consumption, and other security risks well known to them, and the duty to use reasonable care to ensure the Plaintiff’s safety.
Thurman also includes a claim for breach of contract against WKU Defendants and Kappa Delta Defendants for their failure to enforce represented codes, standards, and policies. Further, the Complaint asserts joint liability against multiple Defendants for “permitting, assisting, causing, inducing, aiding, abetting, promoting, and encouraging the overconsumption of alcohol by women and minors and brought women to fraternities for the purpose of rendering them incapacitated for sexual predation.”
While the 55-page Complaint goes into exhaustive detail of the alleged duties the various Defendants may have owed the Plaintiff, a common misunderstanding arises regarding the corporate structures employed by fraternal organizations. For example, the Complaint states “Defendant SigEp National, Defendant SigEp Alumni, and Defendant SigEp promote and encourage getting women drunk for sexual exploitation through word of mouth, social media promotion, and in concert with sororities and the WKU Parties in the belief that such activities will promote that recruitment and fund raising.” However, as the Complaint acknowledges, SigEp National’s own Risk Management Policy expressly states that “no chapter of member ‘can permit, encourage, coerce, glorify, or participate in activities involving rapid consumption of alcohol.’” There may be confusion regarding the parties named in the Complaint and whether these parties correctly represent those allegedly liable. Additionally, this case may have implications for sororities and fraternities regarding liability when jointly hosting events.
Discovery is currently ongoing in this case. Answers have been filed by various Defendants and one counterclaim has been asserted. In addition, WKU has filed a motion to dismiss. Trial has not yet been scheduled, but Fraternal Law Partners will continue to provide updates as this matter progresses.
1] Haellie Gordon is a summer legal intern at Manley Burke and is a rising second-year law student at the University of Cincinnati.
 Complaint, Thurman v. W. Ky. Univ., No. 22-C1-00130 (Warren Cty. Cir. Ct. Ky., Feb. 7, 2022).
 Id. at ¶ 59.
 Id. at ¶ 79.
 Id. at ¶ 217.
 Id. at ¶ 59.
 Id. at ¶ 55.
 There is also another lawsuit pending in the same court against WKU that is very similar to Thurman’s case. See Justin Story, Rape Suspect, WKU, Fraternity Named in Lawsuit, Bowling Green Daily News (Mar. 6, 2022), https://www.bgdailynews.com/news/rape-suspect-wku-fraternity-named-in-lawsuit/article_8f85ee12-167c-5b3e-bcc0-56d425fb2fe2.html.