Louisiana court says lawsuit against LSU over frat pledge’s hazing death can continue

Published 1:11 pm Thursday, May 14, 2020

A federal appeals court said the parents of a Louisiana State University freshman who died during a hazing ritual can pursue a lawsuit that accuses the university of committing sexual discrimination when disciplining sororities and fraternities.

Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver filed a lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of their son Maxwell Gruver, who died from alcohol poisoning after a Phi Delta Theta fraternity party.

The university claimed sovereign immunity seeking to nullify the suit but on Tuesday the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that because LSU accepts federal funding, it waives immunity from lawsuits claiming sexual discrimination, The Advocate reported.

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The lawsuit, which seeks $25 million, alleges that LSU responded with “deliberate indifference” to allegations of hazing at fraternities. It also said Phi Delta has “a long history of dangerous misconduct at universities across the country.”

The suit said LSU committed discriminatory disciplinary actions by policing sorority hazing incidents stricter than fraternity hazing. It said the university committed intentional discrimination that forces males to seek benefits of Greek life with greater risk of injury, the newspaper reported.

LSU did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Max Gruver, from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia, had been at LSU for a month when he died of alcohol poisoning in 2017.

Matthew Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced in November 2019 to five years in prison, but a judge suspended all but 2½ years.

Witnesses said Naquin didn’t like Gruver and singled him out during a hazing ritual at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Naquin ordered Gruver to chug a bottle of 190-proof liquor in September 2017. Gruver died the following morning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.495%, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana.

Phi Delta Theta is banned from the LSU campus until at least 2033 as a result of the events leading to Gruver’s death.