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After Court Decision, Could Title IX Expand to Cover Hazing?

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 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.

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Jim Newberry, Government Relations, Attorney, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm
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Jim Newberry focuses his practice in the areas of higher education, government relations, and regulatory matters.  He recently served as Mayor of Lexington and has extensive leadership experience in the equine industry, legal service industry, state government and higher education.  Mr. Newberry is leader of the firm's Higher Education Team and serves as the Managing Member of the firm's Louisville, Kentucky office.

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Peter Lake is a nationally recognized expert on a variety of higher education topics, including Title IX.  He is professor of law, Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law.  At Steptoe & Johnson, Professor Lake is a Senior Higher Education Attorney and member of the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education Team.

Together with his teaching, Professor Lake practices law and writes in the areas of torts, higher education law and policy, insurance, and jurisprudence, and has won several awards for his teaching and scholarship.  He is an internationally- recognized expert on higher education law and policy and has been quoted or referred to in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Sun Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Time, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, various reported legal decisions including the supreme courts of Virginia and Florida, and the most recent Restatement of the Law of Torts.

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Sarah (Webster) Quinn focuses her practice in the area of energy (coal, oil and gas) and transactions throughout the Appalachian Basin. She has experience assisting in the preparation of mineral title opinions and performing due diligence throughout Pennsylvania. Mrs. Quinn also counsels higher education clients regarding workplace harassment, mental health issues, overtime regulations, transgender issues and Title IX.  In addition, she helps institutions of higher education develop solutions for novel challenges both on and off campus.

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