Family of Dead Pledge Sues LSU

August 17, 2018

The parents of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge who died last year from a hazing-related alcohol overdose have sued the institution and representatives of the fraternity, with an unusual argument that the university violated a federal gender antidiscrimination law.

First-year student Maxwell Gruver, 18, died in September after being forced to drink so much that he had a blood alcohol level of .495, more than six times the legal intoxication limit in most states. Gruver was asked questions about the fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and with incorrect answers, he was made to “take a pull” from a bottle of potent alcohol. By midnight, Gruver was so intoxicated that other fraternity members laid him down on a couch and left him, checking on him periodically until about 3 a.m.

When they checked on him later that morning, he had a weak pulse and was barely breathing, according to news reports.

Gruver’s parents filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday alleging that the university’s failure to stop the hazing was “driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage,” which violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to a statement from the law firm representing the family, the Fierberg National Law Group.

The family alleges that the university treats hazing rituals among fraternities less seriously than it does those among sororities.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” the Gruvers said in a statement. “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist. We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max's siblings, friends and all who knew him. Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue. And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

The parents are seeking $25 million in damages.

Louisiana State spokesman Ernie Ballard provided a statement on behalf of the university, which had suspended the fraternity:

The loss of Maxwell Gruver was a tragedy for the Gruver family and the entire LSU community. Since Max’s untimely death, LSU has worked to develop and implement new policies and practices to better protect all of our students. We are now implementing those changes and are working to educate each and every one of our Greek leaders, Greek students and others involved in student organizations. LSU supported the Gruver’s [sic] efforts to criminalize hazing and ensure that there were harsher penalties for hazing in Louisiana. Our Greek Life Task Force and Implementation Committee have put new measures in place for the start of the fall semester.

To further address the issue nationwide, LSU has joined with leaders from Penn State University and Florida State University to recommend new standards. The time has come for the national fraternities to support the universities and engage their membership to discourage dangerous behavior going forward.

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