A novel lawsuit is being filed against Louisiana State University by the parents of a student who died while pledging at one of the school's numerous fraternities. The lawsuit claims that LSU violated Title IX by rigorously policing the initiation process at sororities, but not at fraternities. Men looking to join Greek life, therefore, were being put at more risk than women were, and this amounted to gender discrimination.
Fraternity Pledge Dies of Alcohol Poisoning
The summer before he enrolled at LSU, the student received a book from the school about the many perks of joining a fraternity in college. According to the lawsuit, this book convinced the student to join. However, it incorrectly insisted that LSU did not condone hazing or dangerous initiation procedures.
The student pledged at Phi Delta Theta. Part of his initiation was to recite the Greek alphabet, taking shots of a 190-proof liquor every time he made a mistake. He ended up dying of alcohol poisoning.
The fraternity member in charge of the hazing was found guilty of negligent homicide for his role in the student's death.
Parents File Title IX Claim Alleging Sexual Discrimination
The parents of the dead student have filed a Title IX lawsuit against LSU for allegedly policing the initiations at fraternities and sororities differently. Because of these different standards, the lawsuit claims students pledging at fraternities “face a risk of serious injury and death,” while students pledging at sororities are kept in a much safer environment.
In a novel argument in Title IX law, the parents are claiming that those different standards amount to the sexual discrimination that Title IX forbids.
They are seeking $25 million in damages from the school.
Judge Allows Lawsuit to Proceed Despite Criticism
Legal scholars have criticized the main argument in the lawsuit, claiming that it would serve as a slippery slope that would make it nearly impossible for schools to operate.
In one article for Inside Higher Ed, Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said, “You would need to have an equity monitor at all times” to track minute differences between how men and women were treated in college. From “traffic court, to sabbaticals, to discipline in residence halls,” those equity monitors “would be extremely costly and fairly intrusive.”
Nevertheless, the judge hearing the parents' lawsuit allowed it to survive a motion to dismiss by LSU. This means, in theory at least, that the judge has decided that the parents could manage to prove their novel claims under Title IX.
Title IX Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
The lawsuit is just the most recent one to highlight the overbroad and vaguely limited reach of Title IX law. As the Stetson University director insinuated, arguing that a level playing field between genders really means eliminating every bump and tuft of grass can put a huge burden on how colleges operate on a daily basis.