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Nancy Hogshead-Makar Discusses #MeToo in ESPN Article

Nancy Hogshead-Makar:  #MeToo Shows Need for Tighter Rules in Club and Olympic Sports.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist swimmer, is the chief executive officer of Champion Women, an organization that advocates for girls and women in sports. She is a civil rights attorney who has successfully represented athletes in precedent-setting legislation and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on gender equity in sports.

Last week, McKayla Maroney tweeted a message with the hashtag #MeToo, alleging she was sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. With her disclosure, she not only identified herself as one of the more than 140 women who have said they’ve been abused by Nassar, who has plead guilty to child pornography charges, but she also re-emphasized that the ubiquitous nature of abuse reaches even the highest levels.

Numerous athletes from all types of sports and women working in athletics have joined the #MeToo movement, including another Olympic gold medalist, gymnast Tatiana Gutsu.

Sexual harassment and abuse in sports aren’t novel or surprising to most of us inside athletics. But the #MeToo movement, reignited after accusations of sexual harassment against longtime Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has once again brought to light the constant objectification of women in sports.

Coaches and reporters tweeted about being groped or flashed, and athletes tweeted repeatedly about the entitlement of their male peer athletes and, in particular, about powerful, sexually demanding coaches. These coaches wield Weinstein-level power over athletes with playing time, scholarships, skill coaching or even a berth on an Olympic team. They can make or break an athlete’s career. As Maroney wrote, “I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

#MeToo.

I am a rape survivor. And in my professional work as an attorney, I have been involved in trying to address sexual abuse in club and Olympic sports for seven years.

As a lawyer representing victims of campus sexual violence, I became familiar with the legal protections under Title IX that schools owe to their students. Regardless of whether there is a criminal investigation, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence and address its effects. Frequently, my job is to make sure violence didn’t interfere with a student’s academic trajectory, that the student could stay in school and graduate without his or her GPA taking a hit. I try to ensure the availability of the types of accommodations Duke University made for me after I was raped in 1981.

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Doug Fierberg in TIME, discusses fraternity hazing and reform efforts

Doug Fierberg featured in TIME story spotlighting fraternity hazing and reform efforts: “[Students are] still dying and still getting sexually assaulted and still getting traumatically injured—and for reasons the fraternity industry could control but chooses not to.”

The TIME article – College Students Keep Dying Because of Fraternity Hazing.  Why Is It So Hard to Stop?” – features the stories of fraternity pledges Timothy Piazza and Maxwell Gruver, both of whom tragically lost their lives in fraternity hazing incidents less than a year apart:

Tim Piazza spent the early-morning hours of Feb. 3 curled up in pain, clutching his head and trying to stand. A Beta Theta Pi pledge at Penn State University, he had been forced to drink a toxic amount of alcohol in an alleged hazing ritual known as “the gauntlet,” according to a grand jury report. He then tumbled headfirst down a flight of stairs. Members of the fraternity carried his limp body to a couch, where they poured liquid on his face and slapped him in apparent attempts to wake him up. Security-camera footage later showed Piazza repeatedly falling and hitting his head, and then lying on the ground alone, holding his stomach. By the time fraternity members finally sought medical aid, according to the Centre County, Pennsylvania, grand jury findings, Piazza had suffered traumatic injuries to his brain and spleen. He died the next morning in an intensive-care unit. He was 19.

A year and a half earlier, the New Jersey teenager had followed his older brother to Penn State, where he began studying to become an engineer. He was known to his friends as a “big goofy kid” who always looked out for others. When he decided to join Beta Theta Pi—whose stated mission is “to develop men of principle for a principled life”—in the winter of his sophomore year, he was searching for community on a campus with more than 40,000 students. “He was looking for that brotherhood and just another place that he belonged here. It is a big place, and finding your group is tough sometimes,” says Bennet Brooks, one of Piazza’s sophomore-year roommates. “That was where he thought he was going to find it.”

Instead, Piazza became the latest casualty in a disturbingly persistent pattern of fraternity misconduct that has resulted in grievous injuries, numerous lawsuits and dozens of fatalities. Nineteen-year-old pledge Tucker Hipps died in 2014 after falling from a bridge during a predawn run with Clemson University’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his parents, who say he was a victim of hazing, an allegation the fraternity denied before settling the lawsuit this year. Eighteen-year-old Ryan Abele died in 2016 after falling down a flight of stairs when he was ordered to clean the basement of the Sigma Nu fraternity house at the University of Nevada, Reno, while “highly intoxicated,” according to a lawsuit filed by his parents; the national fraternity later revoked the chapter’s charter for alcohol and hazing violations. And in mid-September, Maxwell Gruver, an 18-year-old Phi Delta Theta pledge, died in what police are investigating as a possible fraternity hazing incident at Louisiana State University.

Hank Nuwer, a professor of journalism at Franklin College who has researched and written extensively about hazing, has documented 33 hazing deaths involving fraternities nationwide in the past decade. The federal government does not track hazing incidents, but Nuwer, a member of HazingPrevention.Org’s founding board of directors, is often cited by hazing experts. In the wake of each death, a familiar pattern repeats: the victim’s parents express outrage, students mourn at a candlelight vigil and university leaders promise reforms—but too often, critics say, little changes.

“[Students are] still dying and still getting sexually assaulted and still getting traumatically injured—and for reasons the fraternity industry could control but chooses not to,” says Doug Fierberg, a lawyer who has represented dozens of families in wrongful death and injury lawsuits against fraternities.

To critics, the string of recent deaths raises the question of why it’s so hard to reform Greek life in a way that ensures student safety. The answer begins with deep-pocketed fraternity alumni who fondly remember the traditions of their fraternity days and now hold sway over their alma maters. In addition, fraternities owe their staying power to influential national Greek organizations that lobby for lenient policies and to fraternity members who are devoted to what has become a staple of the American college experience. Greek life also has deep roots in powerful institutions: at least four members of President Trump’s Cabinet are fraternity alumni, and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. In Congress, 155 lawmakers are Greek alumni, according to the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee. Additionally, a majority of Fortune 500 executives were members of fraternities, according to data cited in Alan DeSantis’ 2007 book Inside Greek U: Fraternities, Sororities and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power, and Prestige.

Even after the tragedy of a student death, universities often defend the fraternity system as a whole. “I can’t imagine a fraternity-free Penn State,” Damon Sims, the school’s vice president for student affairs, told the student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, months after Piazza’s death as Penn State rolled out controversial sanctions on the Greek system. “The fraternity and sorority system is very important to us. It’s very important to this university. It’s longstanding, has a very positive history. It’s done a lot of good things for individuals and for the community, so all this talk about a fraternity- and sorority-free Penn State is really not [a] conversation that I’ve been engaged in, and I’d rather others not engage in it.”

Undergraduate fraternity membership reached at least 385,000 students in the U.S. and Canada during the 2015–16 academic year, according to the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), which represents 66 fraternities and is the U.S.’s largest fraternity umbrella group. The group saw a 50% increase in membership during the past decade.

“It’s not just some kids who want to throw parties, and that’s the art of what’s so appealing to young men about fraternities,” says Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. “It is about power. And they have been very successful at consolidating power all across the country.”

How fraternities became a campus institution

The earliest fraternities were founded in the 1800s by young men rebelling against the disciplined schedules and religious strictures of their schools. Modeled after literary societies, the first fraternities hosted debates and required members to write essays, while also providing a social venue to drink and smoke. College presidents largely opposed the exclusive new organizations, but fraternities soon became an inextricable part of campus life. By the mid-1900s, when more women were admitted to previously all-male colleges, Wade says, fraternities began controlling social life as well.

While fraternity membership declined in the middle of the 20th century around the Vietnam War, it spiked again in the 1980s, thanks in part to a law that set the national drinking age at 21, making it harder for underage students to get alcohol outside of the Greek scene. Students have since been drawn to the promise of lifelong friendships and the best parties on campus.

Some fraternities, though, have perpetuated behavior that ranges from risky to criminal. Binge drinking has long been an issue on campuses, but a 2007 study by researchers at the University of Rhode Island found that fraternity members are more likely to drink heavily and have problems with alcohol use than their non-fraternity peers. And 73% of fraternity or sorority members have experienced hazing, according to a 2008 national study by researchers at the University of Maine. Fraternity members have been forced to chug hard alcohol, endure sleep deprivation and complete physical challenges while blindfolded, according to police reports and court documents. Hazing bans are now ubiquitous, but some fear they’ve done little more than hide these rituals from public view. An unintended consequence is that students who know they are breaking university rules may be less likely to go to authorities when things get out of control.

Fraternity defenders argue that most chapters foster brotherhood, build leadership skills and promote philanthropy. Penn State fraternity members volunteered 65,000 hours and raised nearly $1.4 million for charity in 2016, according to the Penn State Interfraternity Council. Nationally, fraternity undergraduates volunteered 3.8 million hours and raised $20.3 million for philanthropy in the 2013–14 academic year, the most recent year with numbers available, according to the NIC.

Judson Horras, president and CEO of the NIC, says his fraternity gave him structure and a sense of belonging at Iowa State. “My growth and development—-short of my family and probably church—I relate back to my journey, both positive and negative, of being a fraternity man,” he says. “How much it means to me—it’s overwhelming, and it’s a brother-hood feeling that I really appreciate.”

Josh Szabo, president of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at the University of South Carolina, believes critics often exaggerate the dangers of fraternities by focusing on what he sees as a few bad apples. “I do not ever see a point where fraternities would do so much wrong that it would outweigh all the good that they do,” says Szabo. “That would be akin to saying that the government does so much wrong that we should no longer have a government.”

Inside the fight to stop hazing

The Piazzas’ New Jersey home is filled with photos of Tim—posing in his football uniform, swinging a baseball bat, dressing up for a school dance, laughing with his older brother. His mother Evelyn often picks up and hugs the things that belonged to him. “It makes me feel like he’s here,” she says. His father Jim finds it too painful and avoids his son’s bedroom altogether.

They describe Tim as hotheaded and funny, kindhearted and smart. He was an accomplished high school athlete, and when he arrived at college he got involved with the Penn State Dance Marathon, which raises money to fight childhood cancer.

Tim didn’t talk much with his parents about his plans to join a fraternity, and he never mentioned concerns about hazing. “He played the whole fraternity thing fairly low-key with us,” Jim says. “He just said he was interested in doing it, but he knew my view was that he didn’t need to pledge a fraternity.”

In the eight months since their son’s death, the Piazzas have become vocal opponents of dangerous Greek life. But they’re frustrated that their advocacy hasn’t prevented teenagers from dying. When Jim heard about Gruver’s death at LSU, “my stomach went up in my throat,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The Piazzas want Penn State to quickly implement policies enforcing strong consequences for fraternity misbehavior, and they want those who played a role in their son’s death to be held accountable. But so far they’ve been disappointed. Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller initially brought charges—ranging from furnishing alcohol to minors to involuntary manslaughter and -aggravated -assault—against 18 members of Beta Theta Pi, whose chapter has been permanently banned at Penn State. But a judge reduced the most severe charges and dropped charges entirely in some cases after defense attorneys argued at a hearing that Piazza’s death was a tragic accident. Now 14 members are set to stand trial in a few months for lesser charges that include hazing and reckless endangerment.

Parks Miller says she hopes the case pushes universities to change how they respond to problems at fraternities. “Clearly something is seriously broken, and clearly change needs to be made that’s significant,” she says. “No more lip service that, you know, ‘We’re going to take this seriously, we’re going to make changes, we’re going to look out for these students, we’re going to take hazing seriously.’ That has not happened.”

Penn State announced reforms after Tim’s death—including an end to the system of Greek self-governance and a zero-tolerance hazing policy that permanently bans any chapter in violation—but the Piazzas believe the measures lack strength and immediacy. They also want the university to take more innovative steps, including providing students with a way to anonymously report hazing in real time.

Fierberg, the lawyer and fraternity critic, who is not involved in the Piazza case, believes Penn State is seeking to defuse the situation without alienating influential and wealthy fraternity alumni. At least 14 members of the Penn State Board of Trustees—the body that approved the reforms—were members of fraternities or sororities in college, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“There is no way that an intelligent, well-meaning president of a university such as Penn State could have come up with these less-than-significant proposals without having an eye toward the power, wealth and influence that represents the Greek industry,” Fierberg says. “That influence and power has been used over decades to prevent meaningful reforms.”

Penn State officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an emailed statement university president Eric Barron called the reforms “aggressive measures” and said that “significant progress has been made” in promoting student safety.

Why lasting reform is so challenging

University leaders describe the challenge of reforming fraternity culture as a balancing act. Some schools have taken steps to limit alcohol at parties, push back recruitment schedules and mandate anti-hazing workshops, and national fraternity organizations have rolled out required trainings and safety programs. But tragedies have continued to occur with alarming regularity.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee acknowledges that fraternities can be problematic. He temporarily suspended all Greek life at the school in 2014, when 18-year-old Nolan Burch died after an initiation event while pledging Kappa Sigma, according to police. But Gee recalls his own fraternity experience in Pi Kappa Alpha at the University of Utah as a “very constructive and positive opportunity” and says fraternities -deserve a place on campus.

“The question ultimately is maybe this: Should you ban fraternities and sororities, or should you come up with a model that allows them to flourish—but in a very constructive way?” Gee says. “I prefer the latter, because I think that is more healthy for both universities and for students.”

University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides thinks alumni, who regale younger generations with their college stories and often contribute financially to schools, need to be part of the effort to stop recurring misconduct. He received pushback from both alumni and current students after saying in 2016 that he would consider ending pledging following a student death, though he ultimately decided not to do so.

“I hope you don’t think it’s easy, even for me as president, to be receiving calls and visits from chapter alumni and, in some cases, donors and great friends of the university, who think we’ve taken too hard a stand,” Pastides says.

Even when those within the fraternity community advocate for reforms, they often face strong opposition. Dave Westol, a consultant who advises fraternities on topics like combating hazing, says he has drawn ire from those who think he’s “sharing too many secrets” about his experience decades ago in a Michigan State fraternity. When, as the national executive director of Theta Chi, Westol shortened the fraternity’s pledging period in an effort to stop hazing, he says, he began receiving an annual birthday card from an older alumnus who said his birth date would “live in infamy because you are the person who is destroying the fabric of our fraternity.”

University administrators and national fraternity leaders admit that reforms will work only if fraternity members follow them. Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Phi Epsilon both ended pledging in an effort to reduce hazing, but several chapters have since been investigated for hazing violations. The Beta Theta Pi house where Piazza pledged and the Phi Delta Theta house where Gruver pledged were both supposed to be alcohol-free.

In the rare instance when a chapter is banned for good, it can still re-emerge underground. In August, American University in Washington, D.C., expelled 18 students for their involvement in recent hazing incidents, violence and underage drinking as part of an unauthorized fraternity. In September, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., a white student allegedly affiliated with the Psi Upsilon fraternity—which lost its recognition in 2016 for repeated conduct violations—was accused of assaulting a black student and using racial slurs, according to police. The fraternity says no official member was involved.

In the face of these challenges, critics say the reforms many universities have adopted are too incremental to ensure the safety of the hundreds of thousands of students who participate in Greek life. Without major changes in how fraternities operate, they say, it’s only a matter of time before another student dies at another university.

Even after Penn State implemented stricter alcohol policies following -Piazza’s death, an 18-year-old student was found unconscious and hospitalized in September after allegedly drinking at Delta Tau Delta. The fraternity, which under the university’s new rules was prohibited from serving alcohol at social events until November, has been suspended while the case is investigated.

Such incidents are troubling to those who are still mourning Piazza. Brooks, his former roommate, worries about what will happen as more time passes and the urgency behind hazing reform fades.

“Around the country, people are going to see that there’s literal video evidence of hazing happening and still no one got in any real trouble,” Brooks says. “In a few years, people are just going to revert back to the way it was before.”

Pledge Settles Hazing Lawsuit Against Phi Delta Theta Fraternity

The hazing lawsuit was brought against the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and several brothers of the former University of Chicago chapter. 

The Fierberg National Law Group – on behalf of a former UChicago Phi Delta Theta pledge – settled the hazing lawsuit brought against Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and members of its now suspended University of Chicago chapter on September 11th.

As told by The Chicago Maroon

A hazing lawsuit brought against the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and several brothers of the former UChicago chapter was settled, a September 11 court document shows.

Dylan Kanaan, who was a spring 2015 Phi Delt pledge, alleged in a June 2016 complaint that he was hazed on the night of his initiation ceremony. According to Kanaan’s complaint, the defendants in the case forced him to binge drink alcohol and physically assaulted him in the chapter house.

Kanaan said the injuries he sustained on the night of the incident included a concussion, a fractured cheekbone, and a large cut under his eye. His complaint sought $250,000 in damages.

None of the parties in the case wanted to comment on the settlement. The agreement includes a confidentiality clause, according to a representative of one party in the case.

“Regarding this matter, because it was a confidential settlement, I and all parties are not able to answer questions or comment,” wrote executive vice president and CEO of Phi Delt Robert Biggs in an e-mail. William Eveland, Phi Delt’s attorney in the case, said he had no comment.

Jason Kleinman, an attorney for defendant Dakota Ford, said upon introduction, “I’ll spare you the trouble, and you can quote me on this, I don’t have any comment.”

Attorneys for the other named defendants in the case, former chapter president Nicholas Luthi and former rush chair Mihir Dubey, did not return voice mails, e-mails, or messages left with their assistants.

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Phi Delta Theta Fraternity House at UChicago. Zoe Kaiser / The Chicago Maroon

In January 2016, before Kanaan filed his lawsuit, the fraternity announced that the UChicago chapter would undergo “recolonization,” a process under which the fraternity said the chapter would be dormant until all students who were members have graduated from the University. A letter obtained by The Maroon informing fraternity alumni of the decision cited “risk management policy violations” as the reason for recolonization. It was not clear until October 2016, however, when The Maroon published a report on the hazing incident, that the decision to recolonize came after a Phi Delt investigation into the incident at issue in the lawsuit.

Last fall, former Phi Delt brother Ford decided to share the chapter’s side of the story with The Maroon. Ford shared documents and photos related to the case. In one of the documents he provided, a brother admitted that chapter’s actions were “blatantly irresponsible.” Ford acknowledged he believed that Kanaan had a case against the fraternity: “This kid definitely has a case…. He deserves something, it’s obvious. He has a personal injury case.” But the account Ford presented disputed Kanaan’s core allegations—that he was singled out, trapped in Ford’s basement room, and assaulted—and instead alleged that Kanaan sustained his injuries when he slipped on a patch of ice while drunkenly trying to run out of the fraternity house.

Ford did not dispute that pledges were made to drink significant amounts of Everclear and beer before the incident.

A court filing with Dubey’s response to the complaint denies many of Kanaan’s allegations but accepts some details from Kanaan’s account.

Dubey acknowledged that pledges and members consumed a “green liquid” and beer on the night of the incident. He admitted that Kanaan was in the basement of the house and Ford’s room for a portion of the night, and he admitted that Kanaan tried to leave that room and run outside the chapter house.

Dubey denied or said he lacked the knowledge to respond to Kanaan’s main allegations, and he alleged that when Kanaan attempted to leave “fraternity members attempted to assist Plaintiff who was acting erratically.”

Dubey also said that Phi Delt knew or “had reason to know of the conduct of its fraternity members” and that it “provided substantial assistance to [the chapter] with respect to the pinning ceremony at issue.”

Phi Delt’s main argument in the case, according to a motion it filed to dismiss the complaint, was that “a national fraternity like [Phi Delta Theta] is not liable as a matter of law for the alleged actions of a local college fraternity chapter and its student members.” Phi Delt supported this claim by stating that it “did not control or direct the daily activities of the chapter and its student members” and that it does not permit hazing in its policies.

Dubey and Ford alleged in court filings that Kanaan knowingly and willingly acted irresponsibly, putting himself at risk. Kanaan rejected this claim in response. Luthi, through his attorney, raised technical issues with the complaint, such as instances where he alleged that it includes too much or too little detail, claiming that this prevented him from being able to respond.

Kanaan’s attorneys, Jonathon Fazzola and Douglas Fierberg, did not respond to Maroon inquiries about the settlement. Fierberg, however, is quoted in a September 15 NBC News story about the death of a Louisiana State University Phi Delt pledge. The story refers to Fierberg as “a prominent anti-hazing attorney who just settled a lawsuit against Phi Delta Theta on behalf of a University of Chicago pledge who was assaulted.”

Fierberg appears to criticize a Phi Delt policy implemented in 2000 that designates the fraternity as alcohol-free: “Whatever policy they have relies on the implementation by 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who are untrained and ill-equipped to manage the fraternities…. You can have a policy that says no terrorists go through the turnstiles at the airport, but if you staff the turnstiles with 18-, 19- and 20-year-old drunk kids, your policies will never rise above that level.”

Doug Fierberg Comments on Dangers of Fraternities in the Wake of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Pledge Maxwell Greuver’s Tragic Death

LSU Freshman and Phi Delta Theta fraternity pledge Maxwell Gruver died Thursday after possible fraternity hazing.

A preliminary autopsy found that Gruver had a “highly elevated blood alcohol level plus the presence of THC in the urine,” said a statement released Friday by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office.

Maxwell Gruver, LSU, Gruver death, hazing death, fraternity hazing, fraternity death, wrongful death; The Fierberg National Law Group; tfnlgroup; doug fierberg; douglas fierberg
Louisiana State University Police are investigating a LSU students death as a possible fraternity hazing incident, at an on campus fraternity house, Phi Delta Theta. Maxwell Raymond Gruver, an 18-year-old LSU freshman from Roswell, Ga., died Thursday after he was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital to be treated for an unspecified “medical emergency,” said university spokesman Ernie Ballard. Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP

Doug Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related school deaths tells ABC News:

“Universities and fraternities are not taking the steps – and this goes back decades – to prevent these problems and reform their institutions that are fundamentally dangerous.”

Fierberg recently settled a lawsuit against Phi Delta Theta on behalf of a University of Chicago pledge and was featured on CNN to discuss the perils of fraternity hazing violence and death:

“The dangers of fraternities are not myths. They are reality. The failure by universities to tell the truth about the risks facing students in fraternities specifically related to hazing misuse and abuse of alcohol and other misconduct is the new battleground.” Fierberg tells CNN. “It needs to be changed nationally, because parents and students are entitled to timely and accurate information about the risks they face.  And universities have no basis, morally or legally, to withhold that information from the university community.”

Fierberg said universities violate their duties to students and parents when they create websites about Greek life and only include feel-good information, instead of an accurate and complete picture:

“[Universities] won’t give you the full information because it will confirm that what you believe is right. Of course you have a zero tolerance policy. [Hazing is] illegal. … But why wouldn’t you tell parents it’s still going on?”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our  our hope is that the Gruver family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

Our thoughts are with Maxwell’s family and community during this extremely difficult time.

Doug Fierberg Comments on Criminal Charges Arising From Fraternity Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State

Beta Theta Pi Fraternity pledge dies after hazing ritual

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Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State University. Google Maps

18 Penn State students are facing criminal charges – eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing among other charges; and six for evidence tampering –  due to their involvement in the fraternity hazing death of Penn State University Sophomore, Timothy Piazza.

Douglas Fierberg – a national acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related student deaths – tells the New York Times:

“The central problem is that in a fraternity house, kids, most of whom cannot legally drink, are in charge of getting and serving alcohol.”

Fierberg is lead attorney for the family of Michael Deng, the Baruch College student who died as a result of a hazing ritual known to Pi Delta Psi brothers as “the gauntlet” or “glass ceiling”. The Deng’s brought a wrongful death suit against the fraternity and several of its members – 37 of whom now face a range of criminal charges for their involvement in Deng’s death, including third degree murder, assault, hindering apprehension and hazing.

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the Beta Theta Pi members involved in Timothy Piazza’s death are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group offer our deepest condolences to the Piazza family during this unfathomably difficult time.

EX-MLB Player Chad Curtis’ Admission He Kissed Student Admissible at Civil Trial

The three former student-athletes sexually assaulted by Curtis are suing the ex-MLB player and Lakewood Public Schools.

Curtis, who played for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees during his 10 year MLB career, is serving seven to fifteen years in prison on six sexual assault convictions.

As the judge has already found Curtis liable for battery against the plaintiffs, the jury trial, scheduled for May 30 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will determine damages. 

The jury will also hear the plaintiffs’ claim against Curtis for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, and claims against the school district and board of education for Title IX violations for teacher-to-student harassment. The plaintiffs also alleged the school district failed to properly train staff.

Title IX and K-12 sexual assault victims attorney, Monica Beck of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law, represents the young women. While, Curtis, who – against the judge’s recommendation – will act as his own attorney. 

More on Curtis’ admission, the judge’s decision, and the upcoming jury trial, as reported by MLive.com reporter, John Agar:

Former student-athletes suing ex-MLB player Chad Curtis and Lakewood Public Schools can present at trial evidence of a school board member’s support for Curtis.

Curtis told Brian Potter, then a member of the school board, that he kissed one of the students who accused him of sexual assault. Potter told no authorities about their conversation.

A jury trial before U.S. District Judge Janet Neff is scheduled for May 30 in Grand Rapids.

The school district sought to exclude Potter’s testimony because “boards of education speak only through their minutes.”

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Former Major League Baseball player Chad Curtis walks into the courtroom during a re-sentencing meeting on Thursday, June 30, 2016 inside the Barry County Circuit Court in Hastings, Michigan. Tom Brenner / MLive.com

Attorneys for the young women want to present the evidence “not to show that the Lakewood School Board, as a body, performed these actions, but the highest-level administrators of the school publicly did so.”

The school district strongly condemned Potter for keeping Curtis’ admission secret before and after Curtis’ criminal trial for sexually assaulting three of the four plaintiffs.

Potter also showed support in notes to Curtis and his wife, and once said he sat on Curtis’ side of the courtroom rather than with the “accusers.”

Potter resigned shortly after he admitted in a deposition that Curtis told him of his feelings for a student-athlete and that Curtis had kissed her.

On April 28, 2012, a day after police told the schools about Curtis’ suspected abuse of student-athletes, Potter wrote to Curtis: “You have lived and continue to live a righteousness (sic) life that no one, or no words can take way.”

Days later, Curtis told Potter that he had kissed one of the girls at the high school, had been “inappropriate” and “just liked everything about her.”

Until he was deposed in late 2015, Potter had told only his wife and a close friend about the conversation, attorneys for the plaintiffs say.

He had also tried to keep the student-athletes from going forward with the criminal case. He met with one of the fathers and said “no good can come out of a trial,” filings by the plaintiffs show.

Potter provided a character reference letter in October 2013 when Curtis was sentenced. Another school board member, Gary Foltz, wrote a letter on Curtis’ behalf, too.

Meanwhile, the judge denied Lakewood’s request that “all evidence and testimony about alleged student-to-student sexual or sex-based harassment” be excluded.

She also rejected a motion by the plaintiffs to exclude evidence or arguments about “prior bad acts” or character evidence about the plaintiffs or their parents who are all expected to testify.

Based on questioning during depositions, the plaintiffs think the defense will try to impeach the character of the student-athletes and parents.

The judge could revisit the ruling based on testimony at trial.

 

Rolling Stone & The Fierberg National Law Group Take Aim at Frat’s Reputation in VA Defamation Suit

The Fierberg National Law Group Is Part of The Legal Team Representing Rolling Stone Magazine in Defamation Lawsuit Brought By Phi Kappa Psi Fraternities.

A synopsis of The Fierberg National Law Group‘s recent briefing on behalf of Rolling Stone – as reported by Ashley Cullins of The Hollywood Reporter – reads:

Rolling Stone argues records involving sexual assault at nationwide Phi Kappa Psi fraternities are paramount to its defamation fight against the Virginia Alpha Chapter over its since-redacted story of the gang rape of a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” that purportedly occurred at its campus frat house. And while the magazine knocked out a defamation suit from a handful of fraternity brothers, this is but the first round of a $25 million fight with the chapter itself. 

PKP has filed motions to quash subpoenas for documents regarding “claims, investigations, risk assessments, and disciplinary actions relating to incidents of sexual misconduct, alcohol abuse, and/or fraternity hazing” that involve PKP as a whole and other local chapters. Rolling Stone argues the documents are relevant because the national organization’s brand and the local chapter’s reputation are “inextricably intertwined.” 

“If other chapters of PKP nationwide have been disciplined and/or suspended in response to incidents of sexual assault and hazing, those incidents affect the value of the reputation that goes along with being recognized in the world as a ‘Phi Kappa Psi brother’ and, accordingly, are relevant to the damages claimed by VAC,” writes attorney Robert Hall.

In its motion to quash, PKP argues that VAC is a separate entity from the national organization and any harm to its reputation and membership are specific to the local chapter. “In regards to PKP and the Other Chapters, the information requested is not relevant to the litigation nor is it likely to lead to admissible evidence,” writes attorney Dirk McClanahan. “For example, assuming arguendo there was a hazing or sexual misconduct incident in Ames, Iowa, that incident would not prove or disprove the truth of an article that wrongly accused a party of a detailed and specific gang-rape allegation in Charlottesville, VA.” Alternatively, the organization asked the court to designate any materials produced as in camera only, attorney’s eyes only or confidential. 

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Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Virginia Alpha Chapter house at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.  Jay Paul / Getty Images

The magazine’s lawyers pulled no punches in the responding memo filed March 27, indicating the fraternity chose not to speak up before the story ran. 

“While numerous criticisms have been leveled at Rolling Stone, entirely missing from that discourse, until now, are the conscious decisions by VAC, guided by multiple lawyers, public relations experts, and national and alumni advisors to assume the risk of remaining largely silent and not sharing with Rolling Stone…the factual discrepancies in Jackie’s story of which they were aware before and immediately after the Article was published,” writes Hall. “For had they done so, the Article never would have been published.”

Rolling Stone argues that for at least two months before its article was published, both the local chapter and national organization were “regularly advised” by university staff regarding the allegations.

“The initial failure by VAC and PKP to instantly and categorically deny the allegations is evidence that they believed, like multiple trained personnel at UVA, that these extreme allegations of sexual violence and wrongdoing at a VAC event were plausible,” writes Hall.

Further, the magazine argues that the fraternity had “the knowledge, power, choice and wealth of opportunity to mitigate or avoid the harm it allegedly suffered from the Article,” and the motivation for the lawsuit is money.

“The award sought would underwrite VAC’s operations for some 160 years, or until approximately the year 2177,” writes Hall. “This is a particularly egregious demand given that VAC did not lose any members post-publication.” 

The magazine also argues that PKP failed to show that the records sought warrant in camera only or attorney’s eyes only protection. It does not object to a confidential designation under a previously stipulated protective order.

A hearing on the matter is set for Wednesday afternoon in Charlottesville Circuit Court. Trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 23.

Rolling Stone also is appealing a highly controversial ruling in the defamation suit brought by then-UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo. The court found story itself wasn’t defamatory, but rather the magazine defamed the dean when it appended the original story with a retraction. Many in the legal industry and the press have warned that the ruling, if it stands, will likely chill media apologies.

Binghamton University Student Dies After Fall from Balcony at Fraternity House

Conor Donnelly, a Binghamton University freshman and Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity pledge, dies after falling from balcony during fraternity house party.

Alcohol has been named a factor in Conor Donnelly’s death, ruled accidental by the Binghamton Police Department.  

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

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The Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity house where Binghamton University student, Conor Donnelly, fell to his death. Andrew Thayer / Press & Sun-Bulletin

The Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity house at Binghamton University, where the party and terrible tragedy occurred, offers a text book example of potential code violations. Moreover, while over 1,000 fraternities in the International Conference have gone dry, Alpha Sigma Pi is not one of them.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – cautions:  

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

Fierberg represented the family of Brett Griffen, the University of Delaware student who died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2008. The Griffen’s brought suit against University of Delaware calling for its Greek life websites to list all violations against fraternities and sororities.  Despite the attainment of policy change at University of Delaware, Fierberg urges families to remain cautious:

“Colleges and universities continue to publish vague information – if they publish it at all – about fraternity interactions, including deadly hazing rituals and sexual assaults. We’re still facing significant problems because most universities refuse to tell the truth about student deaths at Greek organizations.”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that Conor Donnelly’s family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

School Violence Law offers our deepest condolences to the Donnelly family during this difficult time.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Allegations of Sexual Assault and Use of Date-Rape Drugs at Northwestern University

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Two allege sexual assault.

As CNN reported on February 7, allegations of sexual assault and the use of date-rape drugs have surfaced at Northwestern University:

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The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on the campus of Northwestern University in Illinois. Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune

Northwestern received tips about two alleged incidents, one on January 21 and the other this month, according to campus security alert issued Monday night.

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, campus security reports.  Two of them “believe they were also sexually assaulted,” the report states.

The school received another report that a female student was sexually assaulted on February 2, “possibly involving use of a date-rape drug after attending an event at another fraternity house.” the alert said.  It is not clear where the alleged assault might have happened.

In its security alert, the university stressed its concern about its students’ safety.  It said anyone with knowledge about the alleged incidents should contact the school’s Title IX coordinator. Northwestern’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office is investigating. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization has also launched an investigation into the allegations.

These are the latest claims associated with a chilling problem that is significant on US college campuses, as a recent survey by The Association of American Universities found.

Conducted in the spring of 2015, the survey documented the problem of sex assault on campus by polling over 150,000 students from 27 universities.  Among female college students, 23% said they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact — ranging from kissing to touching to rape, carried out by force or threat of force, or while they were incapacitated because of alcohol and drugs, the survey found.  Nearly 11% said the unwanted contact included penetration or oral sex.

Click here to read article by CNN reporter, Joe Sterling, in its entirety.

Student Sues School Board That Failed To Protect Him From Sexual Abuse By Janitor

Attorney Monica Beck Files $10M Lawsuit on Behalf of Third-Grader Who Suffered Extreme Sexual Abuse at Hands of  School Custodian. 

The federal lawsuit has garnered national attention and ignited a firestorm illuminating the scope of Title IX in K-12 schools. Further spotlighted in the article below by PEOPLE reporter KC Baker, Monica Beck discusses the severe sexual abuse her client suffered, Title IX obligations in K-12 schools, and her hope to help other victims. 

A young victim of sexual abuse is suing his school board and two of its employees in federal court, for $10 million, alleging they failed to protect him and other students from a sexual predator who worked as a janitor at their school, PEOPLE confirms.

The lawsuit claims the school board in Russell County, Virginia, and two principals at the district’s Lebanon Elementary School in Lebanon, Virginia — Phillip Henley and Kimberly Hooker — “turned a blind eye” to “blatant sexual misconduct” against the victim and other male students.

The victim is identified as John Doe in the complaint, which was filed on Dec. 8.

The suit also names Bobby Gobble as a defendant. Gobble, 42, was Lebanon Elementary’s former head janitor and was sentenced in 2014 to 100 years in prison after confessing to sexually abusing four boys ages 14 or younger over a four-and-a-half-year period, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.

Gobble was reportedly arrested in February 2014. He later pleaded guilty to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, forcible sodomy and attempted forcible sodomy and is serving a sentence of at least 70 years, according to records.

The Russell County schools superintendent declined to comment to PEOPLE, citing the pending litigation. Neither Henley nor Hooker, who both worked as principals at Lebanon, could immediately be reached. It was not clear if either still worked as a principal in the district.

Attorney Jim Guynn, who is representing the school board and its employees, did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. But he told the Washington Post, “I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that any of the defendants had any idea that this was going on.”

Not so, according to the boy’s lawyer.

Monica Beck tells PEOPLE the defendants allegedly left John Doe and the other victims vulnerable to Gobble’s abuse — which, according to the lawsuit, was predicated on behavior such as Gobble spending long periods of time alone with children and appearing “obsessive” and “overly friendly.”

At one point John Doe lived with Gobble, though he had no legal custody of the boy. Henley, the school principal at the time, assumed Gobble was a relative or friend, the suit claims.

“The school had a duty to protect John Doe and other students from Gobble’s sexual abuse,” Beck says. “The school, which is federally funded, is obligated to comply with a federal law called Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination, which includes sexual assault.”

But school officials did not follow Title IX’s requirements, the boy’s suit claims, causing him to suffer “extreme and severe emotional distress” including fright, horror, grief, shame and psychological trauma.

Escalating Abuse: ‘The School Trusted Gobble’

Gobble began sexually abusing John Doe in 2011, when the boy was in third grade at Lebanon Elementary, the complaint states. The sexual violence was “so extreme in degree that it went beyond all possible bounds of decency.”

The abuse continued for almost two years, when Gobble convinced the boy’s grandmother, who had legal custody of him and his three siblings during the 2011-2012 school year, to allow the boy to come live with him, according to the suit.

As for why the child’s family allowed him to live with Gobble, Beck says: “My understanding is that the grandmother trusted Gobble because the school trusted Gobble.”

The boy lived with Gobble at his home for more than a year before moving to Gobble’s sister’s house, the complaint states. Gobble slept with John Doe, bought him extravagant gifts, drove him to and from school and took him on trips across state lines, during which he sexually abused the boy.

Gobble threatened to kill or harm the boy and his mother if he told anyone about the abuse, the complaint states.

Henley, who was Lebanon’s principal when John Doe was in third grade, knew that Gobble had the child stay at his house and took him on trips, the complaint alleges. Yet “he failed to take any action to protect John from Gobble’s sexual abuse.”

In the spring of 2013, when John Doe was a fourth-grader, Kimberly Hooker, who became the school’s principal, learned that a complaint had been filed with the Department of Social Services about Gobble sexually abusing the child, the lawsuit says.

The complaint was later dismissed as lacking evidence, after both the boy and Gobble denied any inappropriate behavior. Hooker was present when both the child and Gobble were interviewed by DDS, according to the complaint.

“Although DSS found the case unsubstantiated, Principal Hooker — who knew Gobble spent vast amounts of money on and time with John, both during and outside of school hours — failed to undertake any independent investigation, monitor Gobble or take any action to protect John,” the complaint alleges.

Once a school receives a report that a student is being sexually assaulted or abused, Title IX obligates that school to take action, Beck says.

“Russell County Schools did not investigate the report and took no action, other than to tell Gobble it would be a good thing if John would be in an after-school program instead of spending time with Gobble,” Beck says.

“But there is no indication that the school ever increased supervision or undertook any kind of disciplinary action against Gobble or made any effort to ensure that he wasn’t sexually abusing John.”

The defendants allowed Gobble to remove children, including John Doe, from classrooms, failing to bring them back for long periods of time, the complaint alleges. They also allegedly allowed Gobble to be alone and unsupervised with John Doe and other children during and after school.

They failed to provide training to personnel and parents about the sexual abuse of students by school staff, the complaint claims.

The abuse against John Doe began to decrease once he left Lebanon Elementary for middle school, according to his suit.

“During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, he had less contact with Gobble because his mother was concerned,” Beck says.

Helping Other Victims

Beck says she hopes the lawsuit helps other children who are left vulnerable to sexual abuse by adults.

“With cases like this, one of the things we always hope for is justice for the individual plaintiff, and that schools make sure that their administrators and staff are trained in Title IX and recognize signs of sexual abuse and receive grooming techniques that adult perpetrators use to gain the trust of children,” Beck says.

“Often times, predators like Mr. Gobble will threaten children and frighten them so they are afraid to report the abuse.”

Gobble’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

“When there is a report, we want to make sure educators know what their obligations are and what the steps [are] to take to make sure a student is protected and that other students are not subjected to the same abuse,” Beck says.

“I also hope that this case helps initiate a national discussion on schools’ obligations in keeping our children safe from sex harassment and sex assault in school.”