The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Suspended fraternity Phi Zeta Delta sues W&L

Phi Zeta Delta is taking to court to challenge its suspension from campus
Shauna Muckle
Phi Zeta Delta’s letters have been scrubbed from the group’s former house, which has been converted to over-flow housing. Photo from September 2023.

The suspended local fraternity Phi Zeta Delta, colloquially known as Phi Delt, is suing the university for allegedly breaking its contract after reclaiming the fraternity’s house last spring.

Phi Delt was suspended from campus for five years after the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the university’s student-run disciplinary body for national fraternities, found them responsible for hazing in spring 2023. The fraternity’s house on Henry Street, which is owned by the university, was converted into overflow housing for students at the start of the school year.

Phi Delt is still fighting the university’s verdict and its takeover of the fraternity house. Paul Beers, a lawyer representing Phi Delt, said the fraternity was “abruptly and wrongfully” suspended by a student conduct body that didn’t have jurisdiction over it.

Phi Delt is seeking up to $500,000 in lost revenues and damages. It is also asking for the university to overturn its suspension and grant a new hearing by the Student Judicial Council (SJC), a student-run body that oversees some student misconduct, according to the university’s website.

Beers and lawyers representing Washington and Lee appeared in Rockbridge Circuit Court on March 5.

Phi Delt claims that the university violated the lease agreement by improperly suspending the fraternity’s lease.

The university asked Judge Christopher Russell to dismiss Phi Delt’s claims. Maya Eckstein, a lawyer representing the university, said that a 1991 amendment to Phi Delt’s lease agreement made the fraternity’s claims invalid. The amendment simplified the procedures the university would have to go through to reclaim the house.

Phi Delt renewed the lease on its former house for 30 years in 2021. However the university terminated the lease after Phi Delt’s suspension in April 2023.

Phi Delt alleges student handbook violations

Beers also argued that the university violated disciplinary procedures outlined in the student handbook when it suspended Phi Delt.

Eckstein said the student handbook is not a contract—the university doesn’t have to follow the policies laid out in it.

The introduction to the student handbook says that the document is not a contract.

“It merely presents the policies in effect at the time of publication and in no way guarantees that the policies will not change,” the handbook’s in production reads.

But Beers also alleged that the student handbook operates as an implied contract between the university and fraternity’s members.

Beers said that Phi Delt should have been tried by the SJC, not the IFC, based on the student handbook.

The student handbook says that the IFC has jurisdiction over national fraternity chapters, while the SJC tries other organizations, including local fraternities. Phi Delt went local in 2018.

Unlike IFC hearings, SJC proceedings are required to be confidential. They provide students with hearing advisors and allow cross-examination of witnesses, Beers said.

In court, Eckstein said that the IFC did have jurisdiction over the case. But she said the purpose of the hearing was not to relitigate the details of Phi Delt’s disciplinary process.

Phi Delt’s long road to court 

Phi Delt has been disputing its original verdict since February 2023.

After Phi Delt received an initial suspension on Feb. 13, 2023, it appealed to the University Board of Appeals (UBA), which consists of both students and faculty.

In court, Beers claimed that the alleged victim in the IFC’s case says he was never hazed. The alleged victim attended the court hearing to support Phi Delt, Beers said, along with several other Phi Delt members. The Ring-tum Phi does not publish the names of victims in alleged crimes.

The alleged victim provided medical records to the UBA during Phi Delt’s first appeal that Beers said showed the alleged victim wasn’t hazed.

Due to the medical records, the UBA asked the IFC to reconsider the case. The IFC ultimately upheld its original sentence. The fraternity appealed the decision for a second time March 28.

That time, the UBA upheld the IFC’s ruling. Beers said the IFC, when upholding its verdict of suspension, relied on an anonymous statement that insisted the alleged victim was actually hazed. The alleged victim did not provide his medical records to the IFC.

Beers wrote in a brief that had the case been tried by the SJC, the SJC’s confidentiality requirements could have “assuaged the Alleged Victim’s apprehension about sharing his highly private medical records and information with the IFC,” thus potentially changing the outcome of the case.

Drewry Sackett, a spokesperson for the university, did not respond to specific questions sent by the Phi, instead directing reporters to the case file.

Russell said Phi Delt can respond to the university’s arguments and revise two of its claims— that the university violated its lease agreement and that the student handbook operates as an implied contract—before presenting them in court again.

Beers said he plans to present the amended claims in a May hearing.

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Jenny Hellwig, Editor-in-Chief
Shauna Muckle, Editor-in-Chief

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