Hartford Courant, June 15, 2017
A jury Thursday sided with Delta Kappa Epsilon in its claim against Wesleyan University over the closure of the DKE fraternity house on High Street in 2015.
The six-member jury spent about six hours deliberating Wednesday and Thursday before finding that Wesleyan violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, made negligent misrepresentations and interfered with the fraternity’s business relationships.
The jury awarded damages of $386,000 to the Kent Literary Club, DKE’s Wesleyan alumni chapter. The verdict does not automatically reopen the fraternity house, but allows DKE to seek “equitable relief” in court to argue for reinstating the fraternity’s housing status.
Kent Literary Club President Gary Breitbord said he hopes the fraternity and Wesleyan can resolve the remaining issues outside of court.
The fraternity sued Wesleyan in 2015 after administrators revoked DKE’s program housing status when it claimed the chapter did not submit an adequate plan to meet a requirement for fraternities to admit women. DKE members have not been allowed to live in the house at 276 High St. since the start of the 2015-16 school year.
“We are gratified by the jury’s decision, which validates that we were acting in good faith and trying to meet the University’s requirements when we submitted a plan to co-educate our residence,” Breitbord said in a statement. “As loyal alumni who love Wesleyan, we wish that it had never come to this, and we hope that this is the end of the legal process. We look forward to substantive discussions with the University on how we can get the residence reinstated as University housing.”
The Kent Literary Club argued in the trial that it had damages from the rent it was not able to collect when fraternity members were barred from living at the house. The alumni group owns the property.
DKE in its case said Wesleyan promised that fraternities would have three years to comply with the coeducation mandate, but despite submitting a plan that identified six beds for women to live in at the fraternity house, President Michael Roth revoked housing status six months into the process.
Wesleyan said DKE did everything possible to stall and resist the order, which was made in an effort to make the campus safer and more inclusive to all students, and that the fraternity never intended to comply.
Attorney James Rotondo, who represented Wesleyan in the trial, declined to comment after the verdict against the school.
Wesleyan released a statement on the verdict:
“In September 2014, President Michael S. Roth and then-Chair of the Board of Trustees Chairman Joshua Boger announced that all residential fraternities would be required to become fully co-educational over the following three years. This decision was based on consultation with the Board of Trustees and input from the Wesleyan community, including support from student government, on how to make Wesleyan a more equitable and inclusive campus. DKE/Kent Literary Club chose not to comply with this process and, instead, sued the university.
“Today a Middletown jury accepted the fraternity’s claims. Though we disagree with the decision, we appreciate the judge and jury’s time and consideration. In the days and weeks ahead, we will explore the university’s legal options.
“Wesleyan believes very strongly in the principle of coeducation. Wesleyan will continue to support the successfully operating coeducational residential societies on campus, Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi, as well as the myriad other student groups that make up Wesleyan’s rich campus culture.”
Judge Edward S. Domnarski said the case is likely not over, with arguments on whether the fraternity house can be reinstated still to come. He encouraged the two sides to negotiate on their own.
“I do not seek to be the decider in this case. I do not have to be the one who determines the respective rights of the parties, you can still do that,” Domnarski said.
Evidence in the trial showed DKE strongly opposed the coeducation policy. Roth announced in September 2014 that fraternities would be required to admit women as members within three years, but DKE said its national organization did not allow women as members so it could not comply.
Wesleyan said a few months later that DKE could meet the requirement by allowing women to live in the house with equal access to common areas. While DKE still opposed the requirement it submitted plans in early 2015, including a submission on Feb. 5, but was told the next day that the plan was insufficient and that the fraternity house would not be included in the coming housing selection process.
Fraternity members have lived in campus housing since then. Chapter President Jordan Jancze said in testimony that the group is still strong and close, and has had success in attracting members despite being scattered throughout campus housing and not having the house available.
The fraternity filed a lawsuit weeks after its housing status was revoked. It submitted a more detailed plan in the summer 2015 but Wesleyan refused to review the plan while it was being sued.
Attorney Richard J. Buturla said DKE tried to comply with Wesleyan’s request despite its opposition to the coeducation mandate. In his closing argument he said emails entered as evidence show “colorful” language from Kent Literary Club as they discussed what to do.
“There’s a lot of emotion as they tried to come to grips with this,” Buturla said. “In the end that’s what they did. They came together and put together a coeducation plan to try to save this house.”
DKE also accused Wesleyan of using the coeducation policy to mask its intention to acquire the fraternity house. Wesleyan has denied that claim.
Wesleyan said the emails, which openly discuss ways to stall and “outlast” administrators, show that DKE specifically intended to provide as little information as possible and fight the coeducation policy.