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August 1, 2019Client Alert

Title IX Claim Permitted To Proceed In Hazing Death

On July 19, 2019, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana allowed Title IX claims to move forward against Louisiana State University, signaling continued willingness of the federal courts to expand the scope of Title IX in the context of hazing. 

The claims in Stephen M. Gruver and Rae Ann Gruver v. State of Louisiana through the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, et al,  arose out of the tragic death of a Louisiana State University (LSU) student who died in September of 2017 following a fraternity-related hazing incident.  In denying LSU’s Motion to Dismiss, the Court found Plaintiffs had sufficiently pled a Title IX violation by alleging that “LSU misinformed potential male students about the risk of hazing in fraternities, had actual notice of numerous hazing violations, and failed to address or correct the hazing issue for Greek males while aggressively and appropriately addressing and correcting hazing issues in sororities, thereby providing protection to female Greek students that was not equally provided to Greek male students.”  The Court found Plaintiff’s Complaint was “replete with allegations that LSU had knowledge of the hazing problem within Greek fraternities and was deliberately indifferent to the risk this posed to male Greek students by a policy of general inaction to fraternity violations as opposed to strong corrective action taken in response to sorority violations.” 

The Court looked to U.S. Supreme Court precedent and non-binding precedent from other jurisdictions  involving both hazing and sexual assault  to conclude a Title IX action can arise where a clear pattern of discriminatory enforcement of school rules exists, based on gender, that could raise an inference that the school is discriminating and can be held liable for resultant injury.  Courts in other Title IX cases have found that, if a school’s administration has received extensive reports of hazing or sexual assault yet failed to remedy or adequately investigate the complaints of misconduct, there may be an inference of deliberate indifference and discrimination based on gender.

Although Greek life and its recruitment processes are often managed by outside private entities, recent rulings have shown that colleges and universities should re-review their misconduct policies and procedures related to sororities and fraternities to ensure gender equity both as written and applied. Although this case is far from final resolution, it will undoubtedly have an impact on future Title IX claims.

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