- NIC Responds to 60 MINUTES Story
- New Lawsuit Filed Alleging Hazing At Texas A&M
- Indiana University Prevails in CrimsonCard Case
- Supreme Court of the United States Declines to Hear Bloomington Zoning Case
- COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates
Newsletter > November 2021 > "New Lawsuit Filed Alleging Hazing At Texas A&M"
New Lawsuit Filed Alleging Hazing At Texas A&M
Tim Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 18, 2021 a lawsuit was filed in the Harris County District Court in Texas on behalf of two Plaintiffs, students at Texas A&M University, who were pledges of the chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (SAE). The Complaint named as Defendants, SAE, its Texas Tau Chapter and 8 individuals.
The Complaint claims the Plaintiffs were “escorted into the SAE House barn” where various foreign substances were poured on them including an industrial strength cleaner described as a “high alkaline solvent-based, extra heavy-duty industrial cleaner.” It is claimed that said substance caused serious burns requiring the Plaintiffs to be transported to Houston, Texas to undergo multiple emergency skin graft surgeries. It is alleged that both Plaintiffs were left permanently disfigured.
Rather than concentrate on the individuals who allegedly caused the injury, the Complaint starts out claiming that SAE is liable under Texas’ “Organization Hazing Offense, Texas Education Code Section 37.153.” That Section provides, in part, that:
“An organization commits an offense if the organization condones or encourages hazing or if an officer or any combination of members, pledges, or alumni of the organization, commits or assists in the commission of hazing.”
That is a criminal statute. Organizations found guilty of the provision face fines of between $5,000 and $10,000. It is far from clear that a court would impose either criminal or civil liability on the national organization based on the fact that a small group of members engaged in hazing in violation of both SAE policy and the Texas law.
The Complaint also claims that SAE “failed to promulgate national standards” relating to hazing. That has become a typical Plaintiff’s claim in such litigation. But it is simply not true. SAE, like virtually every other national fraternal organization, has taken a strong position against hazing. That is made clear even on SAE’s public website.
In an open letter to parents of members and perspective members, the Fraternity reminds that SAE was the first fraternity to eliminate pledging entirely. And for then strongly states:
We do not believe in or support hazing of any kind. If we are alerted to its occurrence, we take every action possible to hold individuals or chapters accountable while helping to correct the course. In August, 2018, as part of our National Leadership School, we hosted and coordinated an educational program titled ‘Love Mom and Dad’. We have encouraged every member, alumnus, volunteer and university administrator to watch it. You will find a short 5-minute version and an extended 20-minute version (which is also a facilitation guide) of the presentation online. We hope you will make time to view it and then reinforce with your son why participating or contributing to hazing is wrong. If they ever see or experience it, they should feel empowered to speak up.
We partner with Hazing Prevention.org and they provide an anonymous hotline for students, friends and families to use whenever they have concerns. We investigate any calls we receive and act when the information proves true. You may reach us directly at (847) 475-1856, which is our central office number or at (888) NOT-HAZE.”
Texas also has a Personal Hazing Offense, Texas Education Code Section 37.152. Depending on the severity of injury that hazing may have caused, those convicted of it may face sentencing for a misdemeanor (180 days to one year in jail and fines of up to $4,000) or in the case of a death a “state jail felony” (180 days to two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000). The Personal Hazing Offense includes a failure to report hazing. While it is not as rigid as Ohio’s new law, it does provide that a person violates the law if they have:
First-hand knowledge of the planning of a specific hazing incident involving a student in an educational institution, or first-hand knowledge that a specific hazing incident has occurred, and knowingly fails to report that knowledge in writing to the Dean of Students or other appropriate official of the institution.
That provision, failing to report as required, subjects an individual to sentencing of up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Like any lawsuit, the initial Complaint presents only one side of the story and the allegations contained in a Complaint, may or may not, be true. But if it is true, that individuals violated the national policies of SAE and actually poured very harmful solvent on the Plaintiffs, it is highly likely that they have direct liability for their actions. That may include both civil and criminal liability. But whether they actually did or didn’t remains to be proven.