Update on Lawsuits
We will provide updates as available.
Students Win as Rights Affirmed with Conclusion of Harvard Suits
November 5, 2020
Students on campuses across the country can celebrate a victory as their rights were affirmed with the successful conclusion of a pair of lawsuits filed by sororities, fraternities and individual students challenging a Harvard sanctions policy that punished students who belong to off-campus, single-sex social organizations. The case has been settled on undisclosed terms.
“The disregard of students’ basic freedoms and the destruction of the women’s groups was indefensible,” R. Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter said on behalf of the federal plaintiffs after the December 2018 filing. “With the defeat of its sanctions policy, Harvard should stay out of the business of trying to dictate who students spend their time with off campus.”
This summer, Harvard acknowledged legal precedent was not on its side and dropped its discriminatory sanctions policy. The announcement from the university is nothing short of an admission that their policy was misguided and openly discriminatory based on sex.
“While we believe the discriminatory nature of Harvard’s policy was apparent long ago, we are nonetheless gratified to see that Harvard will no longer seek to enforce such an unlawful policy,” said Dani Weatherford, CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference, and Judson Horras, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, in a joint statement. “Our focus has always been on the freedom of association rights of students and on the particularly acute harm that this policy has done to women’s-only organizations on Harvard’s campus.
“While we are pleased that this policy will no longer hang over Harvard students, we are also painfully aware that its effects will linger – particularly for women’s-only organizations that were decimated by this policy,” said Weatherford and Horras.
Following Harvard’s rescission of the sanctions policy, the parties reached settlements in the federal and state court lawsuits challenging the policy. Plaintiffs and nearly 100 supporting single-sex organizations believe this win should serve as a stark reminder to Harvard and other universities—students are free to associate with other students without regard to their gender and targeting single-sex student organizations is illegal and wrong.
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DOWNLOAD: Joint Notice of Settlement
Stand Up To Harvard response to Harvard’s decision to drop discriminatory sanctions policy:
June 29, 2020
Dani Weatherford, CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference, and Judson Horras, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, released the following joint statement on Harvard’s decision to drop its sanctions policy:
While we believe the discriminatory nature of Harvard’s policy was apparent long ago, we are nonetheless gratified to see that Harvard will no longer seek to enforce such an unlawful policy.
Our focus has always been on the freedom of association rights of students and on the particularly acute harm that this policy has done to women’s-only organizations on Harvard’s campus. Today’s announcement from the university is nothing short of an admission that their policy was misguided and openly discriminatory based on sex. This should serve as a lesson to Harvard and other universities—students are free to associate with other students without regard to their gender, and targeting single-sex student organizations is illegal and wrong.
While we are pleased that this policy will no longer hang over Harvard students, we are also painfully aware that its effects will linger – particularly for women’s-only organizations that were decimated by this policy.
Preliminary or Permanent Injunction sought in case against Harvard’s Discriminatory Policy
June 29, 2020
Today, plaintiffs in the federal case challenging Harvard’s sanctions policy that punishes students for joining single-sex social organizations filed a motion for a preliminary or permanent injunction. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark civil rights decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Harvard’s policy unquestionably constitutes unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. Additionally, internal Harvard documents produced in the case demonstrate that Harvard’s policy was motivated by impermissible sex stereotypes and anti-male bias, also in violation of Title IX.
Both federal and state courts previously rejected Harvard’s efforts to dismiss the challenges to its discriminatory policy.
Dani Weatherford, CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference, and Judson Horras, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, released the following joint statement in support of the motion:
“The recent Supreme Court decision in the Bostock case confirms what we have always known—Harvard’s policy punishing students for belonging to single-sex organizations is unlawful sex discrimination, through and through. Rather than continue devoting time and money to an obviously losing litigation effort, Harvard should withdraw its discriminatory policy and work cooperatively with student organizations to plan for a safe return to campus this fall.
“Harvard’s discriminatory policy has done enough harm already. It has decimated Harvard women’s groups and created a culture of fear and distrust. Harvard should stop discriminating against its students on the basis of sex, immediately.”
Second court rejects Harvard efforts to dismiss challenges to discriminatory policy
January 16, 2020
A state court judge has denied Harvard’s motion to dismiss sororities’ legal challenge to Harvard’s policy punishing students who participate in single-sex organizations.
“This decision recognizes what we’ve long known to be true: that sorority members have rights to freedom of association and should be free from sex discrimination,” said Emma Quinn-Judge of Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the state case.
“Yet again, a court has thoroughly rejected Harvard’s arguments and concluded that there’s more than sufficient evidence that Harvard interfered with the constitutionally protected rights of its female students,” said Quinn-Judge. “Not only did the court reaffirm that these plaintiff sororities deserve the chance to fight for their members’ rights in court, but the ruling emphasized that Harvard’s policy has had a disproportionate impact on women. Two courts have now concluded that Harvard’s policy may be discriminatory and unlawful. Harvard should listen to the courts and stop taking opportunities away from its students.”
Additionally, Dani Weatherford, CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference, Judson Horras, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, released the following joint statement in response to Judge Linda E. Giles’ decision to reject Harvard’s motion to dismiss a state lawsuit challenging its policy of inflicting sanctions on students who are members of single-sex groups:
“For a second time, a court has found what is obvious to nearly anyone who’s looked at this case: There is considerable evidence that Harvard’s policies have violated the rights of its students and done unique harm to women’s spaces in particular.
“It is now long-past time for Harvard to repeal this discriminatory policy. Instead of enforcing a policy that tramples students’ rights at Harvard, we hope the university will join us in productive dialogue about building a healthy and more inclusive campus culture.
“While we remain confident that the facts of this case remain on the side of the students we represent, we know that we can build a stronger culture if we work together as partners.”
DOWNLOAD: PDF of Ruling
Federal District Judge Denies Harvard's Motion to Dismiss
Sororities, fraternities, students in response to Harvard motion: You can’t dismiss us or our rights
March 22, 2019
BOSTON – Today, sororities, fraternities and students respond to Harvard’s motions to dismiss a pair of lawsuits challenging the university sanctions policy that punishes students who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations. The lawsuits describe how Harvard used a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination.
“Students do not give up their constitutional rights when they enroll at Harvard or on any other campus,” said Carole Jones, Chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference which works with 26 international sororities, including the sorority plaintiffs.
Harvard’s sanctions policy denies women who join women’s clubs and men who join men’s clubs the opportunity to hold on-campus leadership roles or to apply for prestigious post-graduate fellowships that require an institutional endorsement.
“Harvard ignores the devastating impact its actions have had on women’s spaces and women’s single-sex organizations, which unlike similar male organizations, have been nearly destroyed. Their response has brushed off these very reasonable concerns as ‘incidental,’” Jones said.
Regardless of Harvard’s ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy, Harvard now punishes students for their associations with other students of the same sex based on sexist stereotypes. Such a policy violates the most basic tenet of Title IX, that schools not discriminate against students “on the basis of sex.”
“I find it baffling that Harvard boasts that its students are among the brightest minds in the world, yet administrators won’t trust them to make decisions about how they choose to associate with one another,” said Judson Horras, the President and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference which works with 66 international men’s fraternities, including the fraternity plaintiffs.
Harvard Still Doesn't Get it
February 17, 2019
When we launched this campaign, we didn’t know how Harvard would respond. Well, now we do.
And rather than listen to thousands who’ve stood up to protect student rights, Harvard is digging in. Last week, Harvard’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuits challenging their misguided policies.
It is clearer than ever that Harvard does not care about the effect its policy has had on student rights. They are blind – or indifferent – to its destructive effect on women’s spaces and women’s organizations. They continue to punish student leaders for fraternity and sorority membership. By filing this motion to dismiss, Harvard is demonstrating just how hard they’re willing to fight to ensure that their discriminatory policy will be allowed to stand.
Harvard’s response to our campaign only reinforces the importance of the work to come in the weeks and months ahead. We’re inspired by your voice and ask for your continued support as we continue this critical fight.
In Case You Missed It
You’ve been hard at work making you voices heard. And the media are taking notice. Don’t miss the latest writing about the stakes of this campaign and why it’s critical that we continue to stand up to Harvard.
- “When students form their own organizations on their own time, with their own money and away from campus, and aren’t breaking any laws, the only way to put it is bluntly: Their social lives are none of Harvard’s business.” —Los Angeles Times editorial board
- “Can sexual assault be the justification for a forced closure of sororities? Alternatively, does a policy that forces the closure of female-only spaces really combat sexual assault? The answer is no, and the notion that such a conclusion may be defended is ridiculous.” —Harvard Crimson, editorial by editor Noah Dasanaike
- “The fallout from [Harvard’s policy] has been largely on women.” —Tulsa World, editorial by writer Ginnie Graham
- Want to read more? Don’t miss all the latest news and commentary at standuptoharvard.org.
The months ahead will be critical as we continue this campaign and we’re so grateful that you’re standing with us.
Thank you for your continued support,
STAND UP TO HARVARD
Sororities, Fraternities, Students File Federal and State Suits that Challenge Harvard’s Ban on Single-Sex Organizations
December 3, 2018 CAMBRIDGE, MASS.— Today, sororities, fraternities and students filed a pair of lawsuits challenging a Harvard sanctions policy that punishes students who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations. The lawsuits describe how Harvard used a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination.
- Read the complaint filed in federal court here.
- Read the complaint filed in Massachusetts court here.
In the federal suit, a broad coalition of students and women’s and men’s organizations impacted by Harvard’s sanctions—two international sororities, two international fraternities, a Cambridge fraternity chapter, and three current Harvard students—assert that through the sanctions policy, the President and Fellows of Harvard College have interfered with students’ right to be free of sex discrimination, as guaranteed by Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.
In the suit filed in Massachusetts court, three women’s organizations—an international sorority, one of its chapters, and a sorority housing corporation—assert that Harvard has interfered with student’s rights to free association and equal treatment based on sex, both of which are protected by the Massachusetts Constitution. Alleging violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, the suit seeks to bring a stop to Harvard’s sanctions by calling for an injunction prohibiting the University from continuing to unlawfully punish students.
“As a result of this policy, almost all of the once vibrant sororities and women’s final clubs open to Harvard women have either closed or had to renounce their proud status as women’s social organizations,” said Renee Zainer, International President of Alpha Phi, a plaintiff organization in the state case. “Together, we are standing up to Harvard on behalf of all students, because they have the right to shape their own leadership and social paths. Harvard simply can’t erase the spaces students value for support and opportunity.”
Title IX has long recognized the important role single-sex organizations can play in student development, which is why it includes special protections for fraternities and sororities. Yet Harvard’s sanctions policy discriminates on the basis of sex and restricts the sex of people with whom students may associate, dictating punishments based on gender stereotypes.
“Sororities, fraternities and students sued Harvard today because its sanctions policy is discriminatory and unlawful,” said R. Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the federal case. “The disregard of students’ basic freedoms and the destruction of the women’s groups is indefensible. Harvard should get out of the business of trying to dictate who students spend their time with off campus.”
Both complaints recount Harvard’s campaign of threats and coercion in unveiling and implementing the sanctions policy and document the particular devastation the policy has wrought on all-women’s social organizations despite their proven value. Harvard undergraduates have been deterred from joining sororities, and the private, off-campus spaces sororities used for their communities sit empty.
“Harvard has eliminated the range of opportunities available to female students—and with it, spaces that were empowering for women,” said Emma Quinn-Judge of Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case. “Harvard’s sanctions policy discriminates on the basis of sex and punishes students because they associate with people of their own sex.”
The plaintiffs and lawsuits have a breadth of support from nearly 100 single-sex organizations, including the 26 sororities of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the 66 fraternities of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and the organizations in the Cambridge Coalition. Learn more at standuptoharvard.org.
“It is baffling that Harvard boasts that its students are among the brightest minds in the world, yet administrators won’t trust them to make decisions about how they choose to associate with one another,” said Judson Horras, the President and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, which works with 66 international men’s fraternities, including the fraternity plaintiffs. “Harvard ignores the proven value of single-sex experiences, despite the fact that Drew Faust, the Harvard President who put the sanctions into place, benefitted from attending an all-women’s academy and college, and current President Lawrence Bacow has publicly praised the value of his own fraternity experience.”
The plaintiffs in the Massachusetts suit are women’s organizations whose missions are to create opportunities, resources and sustainable networks for women:
- Alpha Phi, an international sorority headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, with 171 chapters and more than 250,000 members throughout its existence;
- Alpha Phi – Iota Tau, the local chapter of Alpha Phi in Cambridge;
- Delta Gamma Fraternity Management Corporation, an Ohio non-for-profit corporation that supports the chapters of Delta Gamma international sorority.
The plaintiffs in the federal suit are representative of those negatively impacted by Harvard’s sanctions:
- Kappa Alpha Theta, an international sorority headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, with 147 chapters and over 250,000 members;
- Kappa Kappa Gamma, an international sorority headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, with 144 chapters and more than 280,000 members;
- Sigma Chi, an international men’s fraternity headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, with 236 chapters and more than 340,000 members;
- Sigma Alpha Epsilon, an international men’s fraternity headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, with 221 chapters and over 340,000 members;
- Sigma Alpha Epsilon – Massachusetts Gamma, the local chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in Cambridge;
- Three current Harvard students who are members of men’s organizations.