Fraternity files $10M lawsuit against university
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 31, 2012 02:08
The Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Tau has filed a lawsuit against Miami University for $10 million in damages. The lawsuit claims the university violated fraternity members’ constitutional rights, as well as breach of contract.
The fraternity filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the United States District court in Cincinnati, Ohio. It also filed for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed members to move back into the fraternity house, but was denied Thursday by Chief Judge Susan Dlott.
This lawsuit comes as the result of the fraternity’s temporary suspension after Aug. 19 when members of Phi Kappa Tau, along with members of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, were caught igniting fireworks inside the fraternity houses and in possession of illegal drugs. Police reports at the time said members of the fraternities were uncooperative with both police and fire officers.
Steve Hartman, chief executive officer of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and foundation, said the fraternity decided to file a lawsuit after it held its own investigation, conducted by alumni officers and national fraternity officers.
“When you look at what we found, it seems clear to us that this whole thing involved a couple of people which would mean the other men who lived there weren’t involved,” Hartman said. “Our concern was that there is a belief that they were all guilty and had to be uprooted.”
Hartman said the fraternity talked with university officials and asked officials to reevaluate the summary suspension, which required all members of the fraternity living in the fraternity house to vacate the residence. Had the restraining order passed, it would have allowed sophomore members of the fraternity who were required by the university to live on campus to return to the fraternity house.
“We didn’t have many options,” Hartman said, in reference to the lawsuit. “When it came to the last day and the school was forcing everyone out, we felt the school had kind of rushed into the decision.”
Claire Wagner, associate director of university communications, said she could not comment directly on the case, but did say Miami had acted by the rules of the Student Code of Conduct.
“The university acted out of concern for safety,” Wagner said.
The Student Code of Conduct states that, “a summary suspension will be imposed whenever the Dean of Students or designee determines that the continued presence of the student, student organization, fraternity or sorority on the university campus poses a significant risk of substantial harm to the safety of the student, student organization, fraternity or sorority, or to others, to the stability or continuance of normal university functions, or to property.”
The lawsuit contains six causes of action.
The first said that the university discriminated against individual members of the fraternity and their equal education opportunity.
The second cause of action said the university violated the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of fraternity members.
The third cause of action claims breach of contract. This cause stated the university violated the contract between Miami and Phi Kappa Tau National Fraternity when it revoked members’ second year live-in exemption without “just cause.”
Hartman said he does not know if the lawsuit will go through the court system or if Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and Miami University will settle out of court.
Phi Kappa Tau President Ross Piermarini and the fraternity’s legal representation were not available for comment at press time.