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Douglas Fierberg: “A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions…”

Death of LSU pledge raises questions about fraternity and sorority hazing The Daily Tar Heel | October 22, 2018 | By Ryan Smoot

Title IX is typically known as a gender discrimination prevention tool, but one family is trying to use it for something else.

The parents of Maxwell Gruver, an LSU fraternity pledge who died from alleged hazing last year, have filed a lawsuit against the LSU Board of Supervisors, as the family seeks $25 million in damages for the university’s neglect of Title IX law.

This is the first time Title IX is being used as an argument against hazing.

The lawsuit, coinciding with LSU Police Department police reports, alleges Maxwell was forced to take 10 to 12 pulls of 190-proof liquor during a “Bible Study” hazing event, where pledges had to drink after each incorrect answer about the fraternity.

Phi Delta Theta brothers allegedly left Gruver unconscious on a fraternity couch at midnight, until pledges brought him to the emergency room the next morning. Gruver’s blood alcohol content was .495, six times over the state’s legal limit.

The Gruver family claims LSU dismissed an ongoing culture of fraternity hazing within the university as “boys being boys,” while also imposing harsh punishments against sororities, where hazing is typically considered an anomaly.

“LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given ‘Total Probation’ by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority,” a press release from the Max Gruver Foundation said. “While Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.”

Ion Outterbridge, the director of UNC’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in an email that the University holds fraternities and sororities to equal standards for hazing violations.

“All fraternities and sororities are held to the Honor Code of the University, the same code of conduct all students are held to,” Outterbridge said in an email. “Fraternities and sororities must also comply with the guidelines set forth by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the bylaws of their national organization and the University Alcohol Policy.”

A sophomore UNC fraternity brother, who wished to keep himself and his fraternity anonymous, said hazing is central to the pledging process at his fraternity. He said speaking to anyone outside the fraternity about hazing results in expulsion from the University chapter, and brothers are normally given a script on what to tell those who ask.

He said hazing is now milder than the stories he has heard from seniors and graduates, but it still was significantly worse than what he had expected and what brothers told him before he accepted his bid.

He said pledges were hazed once a week in a “line-up,” until “hell week” — the last week before initiation — in which line-ups occurred every day.

“Looking back, it’s a memory you want to forget, so I’ve honestly tried to forget and suppress the details,” he said. “Mostly it’s eating and drinking really disgusting things, combined with physical exertion, until you throw up. On the milder side, we’d have cleaning shifts and just have to act subservient to brothers.”

He said he thinks the continuation of hazing at fraternities is primarily rooted in tradition and equity, and that he doubts brothers will ever take the initial step to end hazing completely.

“It’s a mixture of our history and just fairness,” he said. “Like if I went through all of this, why would I stop it here?”

The Gruver family hopes the lawsuit can prompt other universities to take a look at their hazing policies.

“A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives,” Douglas Fierberg, the family’s attorney, said.

Two fraternity members entered pleas in September, and a third is set to have a trial in July 2019.

Until then, Title IX’s impact on hazing is unclear.

https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2018/10/hazing-title-ix-1022 

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Family Alleges University and Frat Ignored Known Hazing Traditions that Resulted in Son’s Death

Baton Rouge, La., August 16, 2018 – Today, the parents of Maxwell (Max) Gruver, the Louisiana State University (LSU) freshman who tragically died from alcohol poisoning as a result of hazing in 2017, filed a federal lawsuit against LSU, the local and national chapters of Phi Delta Theta, the housing corporation that owns Phi Delta Theta’s fraternity house at LSU, and members of the fraternity. Max’s parents allege the hazing ritual that caused his death would never have taken place if LSU or Phi Delta Theta had responded appropriately to numerous complaints of hazing at Phi Delta Theta’s chapter at LSU in the years before Max’s death.

The Gruver family alleges in their lawsuit that LSU’s and Phi Delta Theta’s failure to end the tradition of hazing at the chapter was driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage — in direct violation of Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination. According to the family’s Complaint, because of LSU’s policy and practice of treating the hazing of male students less seriously than the hazing of female students, males participating in Greek Life face serious and substantial risks of injury and death, while female students pledging sororities do not. LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given “Total Probation” by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority – while Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” said Mr. and Mrs. Gruver in a statement. “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist. We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max’s siblings, family, friends, and all who knew him. Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue. And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

“Every year, and for decades, young men have died or suffered traumatic injuries pledging fraternities that are dangerous, yet glowingly promoted with false and misleading information by the partnerships between fraternities and universities,” said Douglas Fierberg, legal counsel for the Gruver family. “A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men, and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives.”

To learn more about this case and the Gruver’s fight to stop hazing, please visit The Max Gruver Foundation.

Click here to access the full complaint against LSU.

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Max Gruver Act

The anti-hazing legislation, ‘Max Gruver Act’, would create harsher criminal penalties in Louisiana, and is nearing final passage at the State Capitol, following last fall’s death of an LSU freshman fraternity pledge.

Elizabeth Crisp and Natalie Anderson of The Advocate report:

Without discussion and by unanimous vote, the Senate on Monday signed off on House Bill 78, which would be known as the Max Gruver Act.

The bill must go back to the House for approval of technical changes, which is normally a quick procedural move. It would then head to Gov. John l Edwards, a Democrat who is expected to sign the measure into law.

Gruver, 18, was one month into his first year of college at LSU when police said he attended a fraternity initiation event and was forced to chug 190-proof liquor. His blood alcohol level was 0.495 when he died – more than six times the legal limit to drive.

Four former LSU students have been indicted in Gruver’s death and have pleaded not guilty – one on a charge of negligent homicide and three others with hazing.

Phi Delta Theta fraternity has been banned from LSU’s campus until at least 2033, following an investigation into the events that led to Gruver’s death.

 A hazing conviction under current law carries a maximum $100 fine and 30 days behind bars.

Under Landry’s proposal, people who take part in hazing activities that result in death when the victim’s blood alcohol level is at least .30 would face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Hazing that doesn’t lead to death would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in prison.

Organizations – fraternities, sororities, associations, social clubs, athletic teams and similar groups on college or high school campuses – that knowingly allow hazing could also face fines of up to $10,000.

Landry has said her bill was prompted by Gruver’s death, which along with similar cases has helped ignite a national debate over how to prevent future hazing-linked tragedies and whether existing anti-hazing laws are stringent enough.

The proposed Max Gruver Act is one of multiple measures in this legislative session to intended to combat hazing. Gruver’s parents, RaeAnn and Stephen, have traveled from their home in Roswell, Georgia, to the Louisiana Capitol multiple times this session to support HB78, testifying in emotional hearings about the loss of their son.

“Our house used to be filled with laughing friends and now it’s filled with sadness,” RaeAnn Gruver said, choking back tears, during a House committee hearing on the bill last month. “This will save lives, it would’ve saved Max’s, and it definitely could save someone else’s life in the future.”

Click here to access the full piece from The Advocate, and click here for more posts on fraternity hazing.

 

 

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