The parents of Max Gruver have filed a federal lawsuit for $25 million in damages for the death of their son.
The Gruvers are suing the University; the national and local Phi Delta Theta organizations; the Beta House corporation; former fraternity members Matthew Naquin, Ryan Isto, Patrick Forde, and Sean-Paul Gott; and four other former fraternity members who were arrested but not indicted on hazing charges.
The Gruvers’ lead attorney, Douglas Fierberg, filed their complaint Aug. 16.
The complaint alleges the University was aware of dangerous behavior within Phi Delta Theta and all fraternities at LSU, but did not take the proper steps to punish and eliminate hazing. The complaint also said the University responds disproportionately harsh to hazing in sororities, but brushes off the several fraternities alleged of hazing as “boys being boys” engaging in a masculine rite of passage.
The allegations state the University knew of serious and substantial risks facing male students seeking to join Greek Life because of the dangerous, repeated misconduct, including hazing and the compelled consumption of alcohol with fraternities. The complaint states the University responds to hazing allegations within fraternities with indifference because of gender stereotypes and persists in a systematic, intentional, differential treatment of males seeking to join Greek Life and therefore discriminated against male students in violation of Title IX.
The complaint outlines details about the University’s knowledge of dangerous behavior within Phi Delta Theta.
On Sept. 11, 2017, two days before the event where Gruver was hazed, the Executive Board of Louisiana Beta met to discuss how Naquin’s ongoing actions with the pledges were extreme and dangerous, according to the complaint. The Executive Board members agreed to address the issue at a Louisiana Beta chapter meeting later that day and discussed imposing penalties on Naquin if his conduct and actions toward the pledges continued, including possible suspension, fines or expulsion from the fraternity.
The fraternity was also made aware that Gott and Naquin’s conduct with the pledges was dangerous. Despite knowing this, fraternity members including Isto, and Gott, allowed them to participate in and direct a large portion of “Bible Study,” the event that led to Gruver’s death.
On or around Sept. 6, 2017, Naquin and Gott, among other fraternity members, had summoned the pledges to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. The pledges were ordered to clean and take pulls from a 1.75-liter bottle of alcohol. At least one pledge lost consciousness and had to be monitored throughout the night.
The complaint adds the fact that the security cameras installed in the fraternity house were not operational during “Bible Study.”
The lawsuit states that even though some of the fraternity members were not actively hazing Gruver, they failed to tend to him when he was clearly in need of medical attention.
“Had Max received reasonable and proper care when he lost consciousness on the evening of Sept. 13, 2017, and/or during the hours before he was taken to the hospital in the late morning of Sept. 14, 2017, an extended period of time during which he was suffering and slowly succumbing to alcohol poisoning, he would have survived,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit alleges the University as a whole was not proactive when receiving hazing complaints. On Sept. 11, 2017, a self-described “concerned parent” emailed the Office of Greek Life at LSU to report excessive drinking at the Sigma Nu house on the Boys’ Bid night.
“The Sigma Nu pledge class was made to drink alcohol at the Sigma Nu house until each pledge member vomited,” the parent wrote. “I was made aware of this yesterday, when a mother of a pledge (who has dropped out because of this) shared this information with me. As a parent of a pledge of another fraternity, I am very angry that this has occurred and I know that it will likely continue. I do not want to hear that someone’s son is dead due to alcohol poisoning, and I expect someone to investigate this incident ASAP and put an end to hazing at LSU.”
LSU’s Greek Accountability team “decided there was not enough information to investigate the case,” and closed its file on the incident.
The University’s “Partnership Process” relies on fraternity or sorority members to investigate allegations of misconduct made against their chapter and to report their findings to the Student Accountability & Advocacy service and the Office of Greek Life.
The complaint states that the only way the “Partnership Process” would function as intended by LSU was if Greek letter organizations and their members were willing to come forth and provide LSU with all of the relevant information they discovered during their internal investigations,” the lawsuit said. “Fraternity members, influenced by traditions and rituals passed down by fraternity brothers, are relied on by the chapter and the University to implement risk-management and anti-hazing policies.”
The complaint states that fraternity members, many of whom are entirely untrained, often intoxicated and influenced by traditions and rituals passed down by fraternity brothers, are empowered, trusted and principally relied upon by Phi Delt and LSU to implement their risk-management and anti-hazing rules and policies, promote the national fraternity and Greek Life at LSU, recruit new members and revenue for Phi Delt and make life and death decisions.
The lawsuit alleges that Gruver likely would not have pledged Phi Delta Theta if he had been made aware of their past incidents. Gruver received a copy of the Greek Tiger, which promotes Greek Life, but did not disclose information about violations and known risks. The lawsuit includes 10 examples of complaints of hazing in Phi Delta Theta between September 2013 and Gruver’s death on Sept. 14, 2017.
“Nowhere in the Greek Tiger, web communications or personal presentations to students and parents by LSU staff does LSU provide male students or their families with timely, accurate and meaningful information about known risks to male students from hazing, self-governance, illegal drug use, alcohol and other dangerous conduct within LSU-recognized fraternities, including within Phi Delt,” the complaint said.
The complaint alleges both LSU and Phi Delta Theta failed to properly educate fraternity members on risk management, and allowed a rampant culture to be past down from older brothers.
“Time and time again, these defendants have remained deliberately indifferent to the serious and substantial risks to male students seeking the educational opportunities and benefits of Greek Life touted by LSU and Phi Delt, and they have failed to act reasonably to protect life and make recruitment, pledging, initiation and other fraternity activities safe for male students.”
*Editor’s Note: Hailey Auglair is a former member of Delta Gamma soroity. She is no longer affiliated with the sorority.