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Lawsuits & Litigation

Judge Tosses Harvard’s Motion to Dismiss Campus Life Lawsuit

— January 19, 2020

Harvard’s being sued by five fraternities and sororities, all of which claim the university has enacted discriminatory sanctions against single-sex organizations.

A Massachusetts court has denied Harvard’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit criticizing its sanctions on single-sex organizations.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the denial was administered by a Suffolk Superior Court judge on Friday.

For more than a year, an assortment of fraternities, sororities and independent students have been locked in litigation with Harvard.

Among the plaintiffs are five national and local fraternities and sororities. Three anonymous members of Greek-letter organizations also joined the suit in an effort to push back against the policy, which was implemented in 2016 but has only recently taken effect.

As the Crimson reports, sanctions on single-sex organizations were enforced beginning with the university’s class of 2021. The prohibitions, broadly, bar members of Greek organizations and “final clubs” from holding certain campus leadership positions and athletic captaincies.

image of a legal gavel and books
Legal gavel and books; image courtesy of
succo via Pixabay,

Perhaps most controversially, Harvard prevents members of single-sex clubs from receiving academic endorsement for many fellowships. The lawsuit alleges that such sanctions violate state and Title IX protections against sex-based discrimination.

The Washington Post notes that, while U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton rejected Harvard’s bid to drop the suit, he did remove three plaintiffs from the complaint. In his decision, Gorton found that two sororities participating in the case had no presence at Harvard; he also dismissed an enrolled student.

Harvard, says the Post, has defended its policy, arguing that it’s taken action against single-sex organizations to cultivate a more inclusive campus. In a 2016 statement, then-Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust suggested that Greek-letter societies are essentially exclusionary and at odds with the school’s values.

“A truly inclusive community requires that students have the opportunity to participate in the life of the campus free from exclusion on arbitrary grounds. Although fraternities, sororities, and final clubs are not formally recognized by the College, they play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values,” Gilipin Faust said. “The College cannot ignore these organizations if it is to advance our shared commitment to broadening opportunity and making Harvard a campus for all of its students. Nor can it endorse criteria that reject much of the student body merely because of gender.”

In its defense against the lawsuit, Harvard has said its own policy isn’t discriminatory because it includes all men and women who’ve matriculated since 2016.

However, Gorton opined that the applicability of Harvard’s policy is beside the point, writing, “It is simply irrelevant that the Policy applies equally to both male and female students. A policy is no less discriminatory or motivated by sex simply because it applies equally to members of both sexes.”

Gorton did add that, in order for the students to win the civil rights aspect of their case, they’ll have to establish that their constitutional rights have been “interfered with or attempted to be interfered with” by threats, intimidation or coercion.


Judge rejects Harvard’s bid to dismiss lawsuit challenging its policy on single-sex organizations

State Court Denies Harvard Motion to Dismiss Sanctions Lawsuit

Suffolk judge denies Harvard motion to toss sororities’ legal challenge

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