Law360 (February 12, 2019, 11:52 PM EST) — Yale University has facilitated fraternity-related sexual misconduct and has failed to provide a safe educational environment for women and non-binary individuals, violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws, a group of female students alleged Tuesday in a proposed class action in Connecticut federal court.
Named plaintiffs Anna McNeil, Eliana Singer and Ry Walker accused the New Haven-based Ivy League school and nine university-affiliated fraternities of discriminating against women in violation of Title IX and other anti-gender bias laws.
The fraternities wrongly denied the women admission based on their gender, the students said, while the university hasn’t done anything to stop the discrimination. The students also alleged Yale broke its contract with them by permitting gender bias and other misconduct.
The students called Yale’s sororities “separate but equal” institutions, and argued their existence doesn’t remedy the discrimination in light of the unique opportunities afforded to members of the university’s storied fraternities, whose past — and presumably future — members include powerful figures like former presidents George W. Bush and his late father, George H.W. Bush.
The students claim Yale has “deliberately phased out many on-campus social gatherings and attempted to avoid liability for hosting student social events,” paving the way for fraternities to take over those activities. This means male students often control “the admission, alcohol, lighting and music for many Yale social gatherings,” contributing to harassment and discrimination, the students alleged.
Yale has been in hot water over allegations of misogynistic behavior and sexual assault by fraternities several times in recent years, including for a widely publicized incident in 2010 in which members of one of the fraternities named in the instant suit “paraded around campus chanting, ‘No means yes! Yes means anal!’” according to the students’ complaint.
Allegations of sexual harassment and assault by fraternity members continued even after Yale reached a 2012 agreement with the U.S. Department of Education in the wake of a previous, unrelated Title IX complaint, the students alleged. But the university has nevertheless “failed to formulate any policy to prevent the sexual misconduct that occurs in connection with the fraternities,” they said.
Yale’s public affairs director, Tom Conroy, declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. But he told Law360 that the university investigates all sexual misconduct complaints, and he said the school issues semiannual reports saying how those complaints are resolved.
In their suit, the students faulted those reports for not specifying whether the incidents are connected to fraternities. They say this disregards evidence that fraternities contribute significantly to sexual misconduct on college campuses.
Conroy also pointed Law360 to a statement last month from Yale’s dean, Marvin Chun, in response to the release of a report his office had commissioned last year, in which Chun said he “condemn[s] the culture described” in reports of sexual misconduct against university students.
The suit filed Tuesday mentioned Chun’s comments, but said he “explicitly rejected” a suggestion to establish a council on Greek life as mandated by the 2012 agreement, and “refused to mandate that the fraternities participate in any fraternity-specific trainings or adhere to standardized guidelines for party or event management.”
Plaintiff attorney David Tracey of Sanford Heisler Sharp told Law360 that his clients launched their suit with two main goals.
“One is to gender integrate the fraternities, and to gender integrate all aspects of fraternity life: integrate the membership, integrate the housing, integrate the access to the career and alumni networks that are associated with the fraternities,” Tracey said.
In addition to suing under Title IX and Connecticut state laws against discrimination in public accommodations, the plaintiffs included a claim of violation of the anti-gender discrimination provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act, saying frat houses count as “dwellings” under the law.
“The second broad goal is to create a paradigm shift at Yale and create a paradigm shift in the Yale administration’s policies and practices towards fraternities and campus social organizations,” Tracey added.
To that end, the plaintiffs have asked the court not only for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, but also for an order requiring Yale and the fraternities to “initiate and implement programs and policies that remedy the gender discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile environment.”
Those policies, the students propose, should include requiring university-affiliated social organizations to register their off-campus events with school authorities and making members of those organizations to attend trainings aimed at reducing sexual misconduct.
They also want to require off-campus events to have “sober monitors,” paid bouncers, “equal amounts of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at each party and food.”
“We want Yale to be forced to abandon its hands-off approach to the problem of fraternity-related sexual misconduct, and to be required to ensure that students are socializing in a safe environment, and in a regulated environment, and in an environment in which sexual misconduct cannot thrive,” Tracey said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Daniel H. Schneider of Schneider Law Firm LLC and David Sanford, David Tracey, Albert Powell and Scott Sullivan of Sanford Heisler Sharp.
Counsel information for Yale and the fraternities wasn’t immediately available late Tuesday.
The case is McNeil et al. v. Yale University et al., case number 3:19-cv-00209, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
–Editing by Michael Watanabe.