A federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit that accuses Harvard University of sex discrimination for its policy punishing students who join single-gender organizations such as fraternities and sororities.
Harvard attempted to outright dismiss the suit, which alleges the university violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law barring sex discrimination. Title IX has largely gained attention in the last decade because it also prohibits sexual violence and assaults on college campuses, and the federal guidance on how to adjudicate those cases has been in flux.
But in this case, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, a collection of local and national fraternities and sororities, and several anonymous members of those groups, argue that Harvard flouted Title IX with its rule against single-gender organizations.
The policy, which was approved in 2016 and applied to students entering the university in fall 2017, does not allow them to hold leadership positions in groups affiliated with the university, including on athletics teams. The rule was meant to target “finals clubs” — affluent, historically male-only organizations similar to fraternities that the university said were misogynistic and were sexually violent.
The Greek life organizations also sued, alleging Harvard had violated a state law, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.
Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said in a statement: “Harvard’s policy on unrecognized single-gender social organizations does not discriminate against any student, but rather is a measured and lawful policy that treats all students equally. As such, Harvard respectfully disagrees with the trial court’s analysis with respect to Tile IX and will continue to maintain in court that a policy that applies equally to men and women does not violate the law. We are gratified that the trial court agreed with Harvard that the policy allows students to make a fully-informed choice and that the policy is not coercive under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.”