Sororities are not a substitute for fraternities, the plaintiffs said, because they have been around for much less time, and do not have the depth of contacts that fraternities have.
The lawsuit, filed as a class-action complaint, accuses Yale of violating Title IX of federal education law, which prohibits sex discrimination by institutions receiving federal funding, and breach of contract for not providing the educational environment it promised. It accuses the fraternities of violating the Fair Housing Act for offering housing only to men, and Yale and the fraternities of violating Connecticut’s law against discrimination in places of public accommodation. It seeks unspecified damages.
The women belong to a student group called Engender that has used civil rights-type tactics to try to force fraternities to accept women. For the past three years, women and “non-binary” students from Engender have tried to join fraternities. Only one fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, let them apply, according to court papers. But in the end they were denied and the fraternity chapter said it was because their national chapter did not allow women, the lawsuit says.
The complaint suggests that there is a “symbiotic” relationship between Yale and its fraternities, which involves letting the fraternities manage social life on campus, in exchange for Yale officials looking the other way when parties get out of hand.
“The fraternities take on the liability associated with student alcohol consumption, and in exchange, Yale allows the fraternities to use Yale resources (and recruit Yale students) and largely turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment and assault occurring in connection with the fraternities,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit claims that Yale lags behind peers like Harvard, which in 2016 announced that it was discouraging students from joining single-sex social clubs by barring them from leadership positions on campus and from receiving endorsements for prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes.
In December, Harvard was sued by fraternities, sororities and students saying the new policy is discriminatory.