A Federal Court Ruling in a Student Hazing Death Sets New Boundaries for Title IX Enforcement

2 min

A recent case from a federal court in Louisiana highlights the imperative for universities to apply their policies and practices consistently to all students, particularly when it comes to university-affiliated Greek organizations. In Gruver et al. v. State of Louisiana through the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College et al., the court denied defendant Louisiana State University's (LSU) motion to dismiss a Title IX case brought by the parents of a "pledging" freshman male student who died from alcohol poisoning following a fraternity's hazing event.1

LSU unsuccessfully argued that plaintiffs' federal Title IX claim should be dismissed on the basis that (i) plaintiffs failed to state a claim of sex discrimination, because LSU did not have an affirmative policy or practice that directed or encouraged misconduct on the basis of sex, and (ii) the allegations against LSU did not allege peer-on-peer sexual harassment. The court found these arguments unpersuasive based on the factual record, and held that plaintiffs' Title IX claim was "unquestionably based on LSU's policy of intentional discrimination on the basis of sex."

The court further held that plaintiffs adequately alleged in their pleadings that LSU was deliberately indifferent to fraternity hazing dangers, inasmuch as it treated Greek males differently from Greek females. Plaintiffs' factual underpinnings for these allegations included the following: LSU purposefully disregarded Greek male hazing complaints; LSU encouraged Greek participation but did not adequately inform male students about the risk of hazing in fraternities; LSU had actual notice of numerous hazing violations; and LSU failed to address or correct the hazing issue for Greek males while more aggressively and appropriately addressing and correcting hazing issues in Greek female sororities. As alleged by plaintiffs, the result of LSU's disparate reactions to incidents related to sorority rather than fraternity organizations provided protection to female Greek students that was not equally provided to Greek male students. As of July 19, 2019, this case against LSU is proceeding further into litigation under Title IX.

[1] 3:18-cv-00722 (SDD) (EWD). The court's Notice and Order denying LSU's motion to dismiss the complaint's Title IX claim was filed on July 19, 2019.