A recent federal court decision in Louisiana suggests that Title IX requires institutions of higher education to treat fraternities and sororities equally. While Title IX generally involves cases of sexual assaults on campus, this new lawsuit argues that fraternity members are more at risk than sorority members of hazing due to unequal protections by colleges.
The lawsuit alleges that Louisiana State University (“LSU”) treats Greek organizations for men and women differently. The Plaintiffs allege that four fraternity pledges have died during hazing incidents at LSU since 1979, whereby hazing of sorority pledges is virtually non-existent due to restrictions and strict oversight provided by LSU. By not offering these same protections to the men involved in Greek organizations, the lawsuit states LSU has violated Title IX.
According to USA Today, Title IX has never been tested in hazing cases. As Peter Lake stated in that story, the lawsuit pushes the boundaries of Title IX enforcement. If successful, the litigation could set a precedent that drastically changes college disciplinary systems nationwide. Colleges and universities would have to ensure that they treat fraternities and sororities similarly when enforcing anti-hazing laws.
This lawsuit could also help shape new legislation. Florida recently enacted legislation that enables prosecutors to bring charges against fraternity and sorority members who weren’t present for hazing activities, but helped plan the events. Similar legislation is likely to be proposed elsewhere.
As the new academic year begins, institutions should take steps to enforce anti-hazing laws uniformly among fraternities and sororities in order to minimize the risk of similar claims based on Title IX.
If you have questions about the court's decision and how it might affect your institution, please contact one of the authors of this alert.