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Theta Delta Chi fraternity named in amended Union College lawsuit

Theta Delta Chi fraternity named in amended Union College lawsuit

Theta Delta Chi fraternity named in amended Union College lawsuit
Theta Delta Chi is housed in the Edwards House on Lenox Road in Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- The Theta Delta Chi fraternity at Union College has been named in an updated lawsuit alleging the college mishandled the 2017 rape complaint of a first-year female student.

An amended complaint from an unnamed Jane Doe filed April 22 listed the fraternity as a new defendant in the lawsuit, which was originally filed March 1 in federal court, and suggested other women have come forward with their own stories about how Union mishandled their sexual assault allegations.

The amended complaint added new details to allegations that paint a picture of a party culture fueled by drugs and alcohol that could be unsafe for students, especially young women. The lawsuit claims the Theta Delta Chi fraternity’s parties “are known by the entire college community to pose a significant risk to female students of sexual assault, harassment and sexual violence.”

The suit alleges the fraternity has a “long-standing reputation” of spiking the drinks of female party-goers with drugs in an effort to take advantage of them. The complaint argues Union College officials have fostered a social scene dominated by fraternities and with “little to no effort to regulate or oversee” fraternity parties.

“The college has permitted and condoned its all-male fraternities, including and especially TD Chi, to foster a social environment rampant with sexual violence and harassment towards women,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit’s broader case, mostly unchanged in the amended complaint, accuses Union officials of failing to respond to the female student’s fall 2017 report of being raped at an off-campus apartment by an upperclassmen student she met at an off-campus Theta Delta Chi party. The suit also outlines a litany of ways the plaintiff feels her case was unfairly handled by a college panel that reviews sexual misconduct complaints.

Theta Delta Chi fraternity was founded at Union College in the mid-1800s and has spread to other campuses across the country. In 2016, the fraternity was kicked out of its on-campus house after it was found responsible for hazing. The fraternity was allowed to return to campus at the start of this school year, taking up residence at the Edwards House on Lenox Road after fulfilling the conditions of its probation with the school.

Officials with the Theta Delta Chi national office did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.

The amended complaint also alleged that “no less than five women” in recent years experienced similar instances of sexual assault complaints being “willfully ignored” or mishandled. The complaint further accused college officials of “a policy of covering up complaints and instances of sexual misconduct on campus,” including discouraging victims from involving local police.

“These women’s complaints fell on deaf ears, with the college sometimes even telling the complainants that it refused to look into their assaults at all,” the updated complaint alleged. “The college’s policy with respect to the handling of sexual assault cases is to keep it quiet and internal – leading often time to the further victimization of its female students.”

In the week after the initial suit was filed, the plaintiff’s attorney, New York City-based Andrew Miltenberg, said he had heard from other women who recounted similar stories of college officials mishandling their cases. Miltenberg at the time said it was possible those experiences could result in future lawsuits.

“It suggests to me there is a real problem at Union,” Miltenberg said last month. “It’s unfortunate that it takes starting a lawsuit that brings out all of this ugliness.”

Union College spokesman Phil Wajda on Tuesday said the college was aware of the updated complaint and said the college would respond through the legal process.

“We remain confident that the facts of the case will show the college acted appropriately, timely, and in accordance with its established policies and procedures,” Wajda said in a written statement.

Before the lawsuit was updated last week, lawyers representing Union College had moved for the suit to be dismissed outright. The college’s attorneys argued the college adhered to its internal procedures for handling sexual assault allegations and that the suit failed to sufficiently state claims that could be litigated in court.

“Despite Union College’s adherence to its written policies and procedures, plaintiff now asks this court to substitute her judgment for that of Union College’s [sexual misconduct review] panel in this internal disciplinary matter,” the college’s attorneys wrote in its motion to dismiss.

The amended lawsuit was first reported by the student newspaper at Union, the Concordiensis. 

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