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Federal Court Upholds Denial of Fraternity Recognition Due to Sex Bias

A federal appeals court has ruled that a New York public college had the right to refuse official school recognition to a fraternity because it excludes women. In 2005, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity sued the College of Staten Island for denying them recognition based on the school’s anti-discrimination policy. Last year, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the fraternity, saying that the First Amendment right to association trumped the school’s policy on non-discrimination.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated this decision on September 13, 2007, ruling that denying the fraternity official recognition did not greatly affect their right to association and that the state’s interest in providing students services without regard to sex was more important. The fraternity was seeking official school recognition in order to gain access to certain benefits such as the use of school facilities and the school name and the right to apply for funding through the student government. Without recognition, the fraternity is still free to exist.

“By denying recognition to student groups that reject members based on gender, [the College of Staten Island]’s anti-discrimination policy directly promotes the significant, consistent commitment the school has made to oppose discrimination,” the three-judge panel ruled.

The ruling is significant since fraternities and sororities are usually protected by a Title IX exemption that excludes them from gender bias claims for single sex membership. In this case the court ruled that even though single-sex organizations are legal, the state may still have a “substantial interest in opposing [them].”

According to Inside Higher Ed’s sources, the ruling could lead to more universities refusing to recognize fraternities or sororities.

LEARN MORE Read about the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Program for more information on Title IX and sex discrimination in education.

Sources:

New York Times 9/14/07; Newsday 9/13/07; Decision of 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 9/13/07