Let boys be boys at your own risk

A novel legal argument before the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana may re-shape the way we think of Title IX claims moving forward. In Gruver v. State of Louisiana through the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the court, ruling on defendant’s Rule 12(b) Motion to Dismiss, found that a jury may infer that Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College’s (“LSU”) hazing policy created a heightened risk to Greek male students of serious injury or death by hazing.

Many people may think that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded educational programs, typically applies to claims brought by female students alleging inequality or sexual harassment. Plaintiffs, suing LSU individually and on behalf of their deceased son, Maxwell R. Gruver, flipped the script on this stereotype. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that LSU’s policy of deliberate indifference to the risks of injury or death to male students participating in the Greek system demonstrates that male Greek students at LSU “have entirely different, and unequal, access to educational opportunities and benefits offered by LSU Greek life” and that “LSU is deliberately indifferent to those risks, though quickly and decisively acts when young women face lesser risks.”

Plaintiffs cited the fact that their son’s fraternity had numerous complaints of hazing filed against it and yet neither the school nor the fraternity’s national organization addressed the misconduct. As further proof, Plaintiffs pointed to LSU’s sanctioning of other Greek organizations and the fact that LSU’s sorority hazing complaints were historically treated more harshly than fraternity complaints. This practice, Plaintiffs argued, was “grounded in outdated stereotypes of men” and forced males on campus to participate in Greek Life with greater risk of injury or death than their female counterparts. In short, Plaintiffs claimed that LSU had a policy of treating sorority hazing violations more severely than fraternity organizations, thereby making Greek Life safer for women by reducing the hazards for risk to the female population, and exposing males to heightened risk. This relaxed policy towards fraternities was alleged to have proximately caused Gruver’s injury and created an increased risk to all male Greek students generally.

The court referenced a number of comparable decisions that essentially found Title IX violations where schools ignored complaints of hazing in male organizations or programs due to their gender, under the dated mantra that “boys will be boys”.

While this is a tenuous theory of liability moving forward, it opens the doors for plaintiffs to allege that a school’s purposeful disregard for male hazing complaints creates a greater risk of danger for males in fraternities compared to females in sororities. When addressing hazing violations, institutions should be careful to aggressively and appropriately confront hazing, no matter the gender or type of organization at issue.