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Newsletter > March 2019 > "Lawsuit Filed Against Yale is An Attack on Greek Organizations"
Lawsuit Filed Against Yale is An Attack on Greek Organizations
Tim Burke, Manley Burke LPA, email@example.com
On February 12, 2019, three female students at Yale filed suit against the University and nine fraternity chapters, their international organizations, and their house corporations in the United States District Court in Connecticut. The 311–paragraph, 85–page com- plaint is a direct attack on single sex fraternal organizations. It alleges nine separate causes of action, six of which are against Yale University. They allege, among other things, violations of Title IX creating a hostile educational environment, violations of Connecticut Public Accommodation laws, breach of contract, and unfair trade practices. The three claims against the fraternal organizations allege a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act for not allowing women to live in the houses, and violations of the Connecticut Public Accommodations Law. Under the Connecticut statute, the complaint makes two separate claims against the fraternal organizations. First, that the denial of membership to women in the men’s Greek organizations constitutes discrimination in places of public accommodation. Second, that sexual misconduct—which the complaint alleges the “defendant fraternities have a policy and practice of creating a hostile environment at their houses and events throughout Yale’s campus” and the “prevalence of sexual harassment” at fraternities—creates a hostile educational environment in violation of the Connecticut Public Accommodations Law.
The lawsuit, which follows a failed complaint before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity, seeks a court declaration that Plaintiffs are proceeding on behalf of themselves and as representatives of the class of all others who are similarly situated—in other words a declaration that this suit is a class action.
Make no mistake about it, this is a serious challenge to the structure of single sex social fraternities. But there are numerous defenses, beginning with the fact that the United States Congress has specifically recognized in Title IX that single sex social fraternities may exist on college campuses, even with the recognition of their host institution, without the college or university violating the provisions of Title IX.
The lawsuit details what it purports is Yale’s “decades long history of fraternity–related sexual misconduct” and makes specific claims with regard to the three plaintiffs. Each alleges she was groped at fraternity parties or was “grinded from behind” on the dance floor at a fraternity party. Such conduct should never happen, and fraternity chapters and national organizations that become aware of such conduct need to punish the offenders. However, to convince a court that those individual incidents establish a fraternity “policy and practice of creating a hostile environment” will be a large hurdle for the plaintiffs to overcome.
Sarah Brown, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education summarized the lawsuit this way:
The most eye–catching part of the new Title IX lawsuit against Yale University and nine of its all male fraternities is that it seeks to force the organizations to accept women as members.
But the lawsuit, brought by three female students, also makes the interesting argument that Yale has abdicated its obligation to protect students by letting fraternities off the hook and ignoring repeated complaints about sexual misconduct at their parties.
A New York Times article describes the relief sought by the plaintiffs this way:
The plaintiffs – a sophomore and two juniors – have demanded in the lawsuit that Yale and its fraternities rein in the parties. They have asked for a court order that would force the fraternities to admit women and allow them to share in the benefits of membership, like housing and powerful alumni networks that can lead to jobs, intern- ships and social capital.
Fraternal Law will monitor this case as it develops.
- Complaint, McNeil v. Yale Univ., No. 3:19–cv–00209 (D. Conn. Feb. 12, 2019).
- Sarah Brown, What Responsibility Does a University Have to Regulate Fraternity Culture? Chron. Higher Educ., Feb. 12, 2019.
- Anemona Hartocollis, Women Sue Yale Over a Fraternity Culture They Say Enables Harassment, N.Y. Times, Feb. 12, 2019.