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A Deadly Haze

Doug Fierberg and And our Clients will appear in A Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis, Airing on CNN Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET

When gruesome details of the death of 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza became public, college Greek life and the country’s fraternity system came under intense scrutiny.  A wide-ranging investigation examining hours of video, text messages between fraternity brothers and eyewitness testimony led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in history.  Now, more than two dozen young men face criminal charges.  In Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis airing Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET on CNN, Alisyn Camerota takes an in-depth look at what happened to Piazza inside the walls of the Beta Theta Pi house and the alleged coverup that ensued.

Camerota speaks to Kordel Davis, a brother who witnessed the events of that night.  She also speaks with James Vivenzio, a former fraternity brother turned whistleblower, who describes the pledging process and what it’s like to be hazed.

With insight from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim, Deadly Haze delves into a fraternity system that has been called out for “rampant and pervasive” hazing in its Greek community. But the fraternity hazing crisis stretches far beyond Penn State.

Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country. Some studies find that Greek Life comes with a 50% higher rate of sexual assault. Fraternity and sorority members also report excessive drinking four times higher than the average student. Despite those risks, young men still flock to fraternities. By all accounts, Greek life is as popular as ever – with more than 400,000 active fraternity members which is a 50% increase over the past decade.

As millions of young people make the monumental decision of which college they should attend, do they and their parents know enough about the perils of hazing at universities across the country?  Even with Timothy Piazza’s tragic, high profile case, dangerous fraternity behavior continues on campuses across the country leading to at least three more deaths in 2017.

Deadly Haze will also stream live for subscribers on Saturday, April 14th via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The documentary will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

About CNN Special Report CNN Special Report is the award-winning, in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events and the powerful human-interest stories that reflect our times.

School Violence Law Represents Georgia High School Student Suspended After Reporting Her Sexual Assault

Title IX Complaint filed due to school district’s gross mishandling of sexual assault on a freshman student.gwinnett county public schools, slate, sexual assault, high school sexual assault

The assault our client endured, and the school administration’s reaction thereafter, is chronicled by Slate contributor Nora Caplan-Bricker, in a piece entitled, My School Punished Me.”

In the gripping article (below) Caplan-Bricker discusses the complaint itself while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the larger issue of sexual assault and Title IX mismanagement occurring all too frequently in K-12 schools across the nation.

Peachtree Ridge High School is a low-slung concrete building in Suwanee, Georgia, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta. School had just gotten out on Feb. 4, 2015, and a 16-year-old sophomore was waiting just inside the main entrance for her mother to pick her up, she says, when a male classmate approached and said he wanted to show her some video equipment. She says that she followed him into the school’s newsroom, just down the hall, where he allegedly coerced her into performing oral sex.

The next morning, the female student did something unusual for a sexual assault victim: She went straight to her first-period teacher and, in tears, reported the incident. (Since both parties are minors whose names have never appeared in the press, Slate is protecting their privacy and will refer to the alleged victim by her initials, T.M.) What followed was at least as disturbing as the event she detailed, according to a legal complaint that T.M.’s family submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Peachtree Ridge resource officer who first questioned T.M. set the tenor of the school’s investigation when he asked her to describe what she was wearing at the time of the assault, according to the complaint, which the family’s lawyers provided to Slate. The complaint says the officer also requested that she explain why she didn’t fight off her assailant: “Why didn’t you bite his penis and squeeze his balls?” he allegedly asked. (The resource officer did not respond to a request for comment, nor did other school administrators named in the complaint, or the two teachers to whom T.M. originally reported the incident.)

The complaint states that within days, T.M. and her parents were informed that she would be suspended, as would the boy, until the school could conduct a joint disciplinary hearing. There, she and the alleged perpetrator, or their legal representatives, would cross-examine each other. If T.M. couldn’t prove that what she’d experienced was assault, she would be disciplined along with the boy for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds, a violation of Peachtree’s rules.

“We begged and pleaded with the superintendent to hold the hearing for each one separately, so that it would be less traumatizing,” T.M.’s father told me. “We even considered not having her attend at all.” But not showing up would have resulted in an automatic finding of guilt. They weighed “the moral thing of what’s right—is it right to let that boy get away with it? Is it right to not try to hold the school accountable?” T.M.’s father says. “In the end, we decided, and [T.M.] decided, that she wanted to try to stand up for herself. Of course, that did no good whatsoever.”

“I really wish my school would have helped me instead of looking out for itself,” T.M. wrote to me in a statement. “The school took advantage of me, and that wasn’t fair. … The school should have pulled my attacker out of school and put him somewhere else, far away from me.”

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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Ooltewah High School Rape Victim

School Violence Law filed suit on behalf of the Ooltewah High School Rape Victim who was sodomized with a pool-cue by teammates.

The lawsuit, as reported by the Times Free Press, was filed in Federal court today, stating that district administrators and school employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, “and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete’s harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates.”

Our client’s (referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit) Title IX rights were violated, as the defendants knew violence and gender-based hazing was taking place and “created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to John.

The Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school’s former Athletic Director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley and former boy’s head basketball coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, were “reckless, grossly negligent and deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of the [victim].”

Attorneys for the victim, Douglas Fierberg and Monica Beck , along with co-counsel Eddie Schmidt, argue the Ooltewah High School Board failed to “exercise reasonable care to supervise and protect our client, and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Mongtomery’s negligent actions provided legal grounds to remove the board’s immunity.”

“Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence,” Monica Beck said in a written statement to the Times Free Press. “This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials.”

Fierberg Comments on DA’s Decision to Drop Two High-Profile Campus Rape Cases

Fulton County District Attorney will not bring charges against the assailants involved in campus rape cases at Morehouse College and Georgia Tech.

The three Morehouse basketball players accused of sexually assaulting a Spelman College student in March 2013 were arrested in April 2013 on various assault and rape charges, released on bond, and suspended from Morehouse while Howard’s office investigated. In the second case, Caleb Ackerman, the Georgia Tech student accused of raping an Agnes Scott College Student at his fraternity house in January 2014, was expelled from the university.

campus rape case, campus rape, campus rape cases, doug fierberg, douglas fierberg, the fierberg national law group, school violence law, campus rape attorney, campus rape lawyer
Howard (pictured above) will not bring charges in two high-profile campus rape cases. Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Tech case garnered national attention, in part, because Ackerman’s fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, drew public scrutiny after an email surfaced from one member instructing others how to lure “rapebait” by plying female guests with alcohol.

When the first victim came forward with her allegations of rape after drinking alcohol provided by Phi Kappa Tau members at their fraternity house, another Agnes Scott student followed suit, telling Georgia Tech police Ackerman had raped her in 2012 at an event held at the fraternity house. While the second women did not wish to pursue criminal charges against Ackerman, both women sued the fraternity, saying it “promoted a rampant culture of rape and misogyny.”

Attorney Douglas Fierberg, represented both women in the civil case against the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity that settled about a year ago for an undisclosed sum. Fierberg says Howard’s delay was unwarranted.

“We were able to bring a (civil) case forward, prove what needed to be proven and reach a resolution long before the state decided to move or not,” Fierberg said.

The long delay of Paul Howard’s decision – over two years – prompted complaints that both the accused and the victims were left in limbo.

“No prosecution makes no sense,” said Fierberg.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Cari Simon in Washington Post – “Biden and Obama Rewrite the Rulebook on College Sexual Assaults.”

Cari Simon’s representation of campus rape survivors featured in Washington Post article concerning the college sexual assault crisis in America.

In the wake of the Stanford University rape case, the focus on campus sexual misconduct has intensified.

Vice President Biden penned a gripping letter to the victim – “I am filled with furious anger, both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken.” The letter seemed to encapsulate the national outrage that erupted when the woman’s attacker was sentenced to just six months in county jail and simultaneously cast light on the rigorous effort of this administration to transform the way colleges and universities responded to allegations of sexual misconduct.

“The administration’s approach — through federal enforcement of civil rights protections and a campus-based advocacy campaign — was spurred in part by an emboldened group of survivors who have gone public with their complaints about their schools’ unresponsiveness. But it also reflects the activism of Biden and President Obama, who became alarmed at the idea of rape as a fixture of college life.” – The Washington Post

In 2001, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance that sexual harassment constituted a threat to students’ ability to pursue educational opportunities.

School Violence Law attorney Cari Simon, of The Fierberg National Law Group has represented dozens of campus-assault survivors. She tells The Washington Post, aspects of the guidance, like accommodations to shield victims from subsequent harassment and trauma, are critical to avoid them going into “a downward-spiral path”.

Cari recently garnered national attention with her representation of two Kansas State University sexual assault survivors, Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer. Weckhorst and Farmer were raped at university sanctioned fraternity houses, but due to Kansas State’s refusal to investigate sexual assaults occurring off-campus, must continue to share campus with their assailants. With the help of Cari Simon, the two women are suing Kansas State University, and on Friday, the Justice Department filed two separate amicus briefs on the students’ side, arguing their Title IX suits should go forward.

Schools are legally obligated to ensure sexual violence does not undermine students’ educations, and although the federal disciplinary guidance remains controversial, the campaign for bystander intervention that the White House launched in 2014, It’s On Us, has won widespread support by encouraging victims and bystanders alike to demand more accountability from schools.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Fraternity Hazing and Sexual Assault BBC Documentary Features The Fierberg National Law Group

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities, aired last week to audiences across Europe, garnering rave reviews.

The hour long BBC expose dives deeper into U.S. Fraternity life, narrowly debunking and greatly personifying fraternity stereotypes that exist within the minds of Europeans, and let’s be honest, (non-Greek) Americans alike.

In the midst of toga parties and binge drinking, Douglas Fierberg and Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law cast a sobering light onto the common practices of hazing and sexual assault that run rampant within fraternity culture.  While our client, Terrance Bennett, bravely chronicles his experience as a Tau Kappa Epsilon (“TKE”) pledge, recalling in horrifying detail the hazing practices that led him to be hospitalized for weeks and nearly cost him his life.

“The film highlighted two disturbing statistics: that frat member students were three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members, and that violent initiations, known as “hazing”, have been responsible for a staggering 22 deaths in just eight years. More sinister still is that American universities have been complicit in keeping such occurrences out of the courts, and out of the news, because they receive 75 per cent of donations from fraternity members.”The Telegraph

The family of Harrison Kowiak, a 19 year old co-ed who died trying to join a fraternity, also shares their son’s story in the documentary. A football accident, his family was told, initially, took Harrison’s life.  Though, after commissioning their own investigation, Harrison’s family discovered he’d been killed during a hazing ritual in which pledge’s are taken to a desolate field in the black of night and told to capture a sacred rock while being tackled from all sides by fraternity brothers dressed in dark clothing.

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities will air in the United States Fall 2016.

Click here to read more about the BBC documentary as told by the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian.

Nicholas Holt, Sophomore at Stony Brook University, Tragically Died After Frat Party

Police are investigating the death of a Stony Brook University student following a party at an off-campus fraternity house last week.

Nicholas Holt, stony brook university, alpha phi delta, fraternity, death
Stony Brook University sophomore, Nicholas Holt, tragically loses his life after attending Alpha Phi Delta fraternity party

The student, Nicholas Holt, was a freshman at Stony Brook University and member of the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity, according to an article published by NBC 4 New York.

Stony Brook University has reported to NBC 4 New York that Nicholas lost his life several days after he was taken from the party to Mather Hospital.

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

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

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Title IX Lawyer Advocates for Campus Rape Victims at White House

Cari Simon, Title IX lawyer with School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group among an elite group of women selected to attend the White House Summit on the United State of Women!

title ix attorney, title ix lawyer, sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, cari simon, the united state of womenConvened by the White House, the United State of Women Summit looks to rally women from all walks of life together to celebrate the progress/achievements made on behalf of women and girls and to discuss/set forth plans of action moving forward.

Set to take place the week of June 13th in Washington D.C., the Summit will feature speakers who will both educate and inspire attendees, while also focusing on the following topics:

Economic Empowerment: Discussing equal pay and paid leave, as well as childcare and diversity.
Health and Wellness: Looking at health coverage, preventative care, pregnancy and more.
Educational Opportunity: Covering education for girls and women, from early childhood to college.
Violence Against Women: How we can prevent it on campus and at home, in the US and abroad.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Supporting female entrepreneurs with access to capital and increasing markets.
Leadership and Civic Engagement: Furthering women’s roles in corporations, academia, the media and the public sector.

The United State of Women will be an important moment for both women and girls, domestically and internationally. Congratulations Cari!!

#StateofWomen

Transgender Teen In Virginia Restroom Access Case Wins In Appeals Court

Federal Court of Appeals Rules In Favor of Transgender Student in Virginia Restroom Access Case.

Gavin Grimm sued his school in Virginia after it decided that he would not be allowed to use the boys bathroom.

virginia restroom access case, transgender, title ix
Gavin Grimm during an interview at his home in Gloucester, VA. Steve Helber/AP

Per NPR, Grimm, who was designated female but identifies as male, argued the policy violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program that gets federal funding. In 2015, the Department of Education issued a memo saying that when a school decides to treat students differently on the basis of sex, it “generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Grimm, saying that a lower court should have deferred to the federal government’s assertion that Title IX protects transgender students.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which brought the case to court on behalf of Grimm, says this is the first time a federal court has affirmed the Title IX protects transgender students.

“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy.With this decision, we hope that schools and legislators will finally get the message that excluding transgender kids from the restrooms is unlawful sex discrimination.”  – Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project.

The ACLU’s official statement & press release can be viewed here.

Title IX Attorney On Good Morning America To Discuss K-State Lawsuits

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, alongside their Title IX attorney, Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group, break their silence about K-State lawsuits in an interview with ABC News.

As School Violence Law touched on last week, attorney Cari Simon brought suit against Kansas State University on behalf of two women, claiming the school ignored their reports of being sexually assaulted.

The women filed separate federal suits against Kansas State University after university officials refused to investigate their reports of rape by fellow students because the incidents had occurred at off-campus fraternity houses.

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer told ABC’s Good Morning America in an interview Monday morning that they went public with their names because they feel they’ve done nothing wrong.

“If this is what we have to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to a single, one more person, if this is what it takes — then that is what we have to do. It was terrifying, I am always fearful they will come back. Fear is the main thing…. The only thing I hope to gain from this is that nobody has to have the same experience as us.” Weckhorst said of the assaults. “I felt worthless and I didn’t know how to do relieve that pain, there was no closure for it,” adds Farmer.

Both women reported the sexual assaults to police and went to hospitals where rape kits were taken. Farmer and Weckhorst also reported their assaults to two different faculty members.

“I went to the offices and they gave me a lot of back and forth, and I answered a lot of questions and they told me they couldn’t investigate cause it was off campus,” Farmer said.

Both lawsuits suits cite that “under Title IX, if a student files a complaint with the school, regardless of where the conduct occurred, the school must process the complaint in accordance with its established procedures.”

“What Kansas State seems to be ignoring is that the victims of sexual violence keep feeling the effects of the assault long after the sexual assault,” – Cari Simon

ABC News reports that the president of the student body has released a public statement in support of the two students saying they respect the bravery of the women in stepping forward and that “a change needs to be made in order for all K-State students to feel taken care of and supported in all aspects concerning campus safety.”