Product Liability & Toxics Law News

Sorority Sued Over Hazing That Ended in Pledge’s Suicide

Jan. 9, 2019, 5:12 PM

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and its chapters at Northwestern University forced a pledge to endure paddling, sleep deprivation, verbal abuse, and other forms of hazing so severe it caused the woman to commit suicide, a new lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit filed Jan. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is the latest in a wave of cases alleging abuse by college and high school coaches, teachers, and classmates.

Recent and similar litigation includes claims that a high school football team sexually assaulted a teammate, that a former teacher at an elite prep school abused a student, and that a toxic environment within the University of Maryland football team factored into a player’s death from heat stroke last year.

Here, Jordan Hankins, a 2017 pledge at the Evanston, Ill.-based university, hanged herself in her dorm room after telling members of AKA Sorority the hazing was triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts, the complaint by her family states.

AKA Sorority, which has nearly 300,000 members worldwide in 1,108 chapters, owed a duty to Hankins to exercise reasonable care in the initiation rituals of its chapters, including the Gamma Chi and Delta Chi Omega chapters to which Hankins had pledged, the complaint states.

It also claims that even though the organization has prohibited hazing since it was founded in 1908, “hazing continues to be a well-known occurrence in the sorority, and women continue to sustain injuries and even death as a result of hazing rituals,” citing similar cases filed against AKA over the last decade.

AKA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Robins Kaplan LLP and Thomas E. Vaughn & Associates represented Felicia Hankins.

The case is Hankins v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 19-cv-00147, 1/9/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

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