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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Woman sues Sigma Chi

Sigma Chi\’s Madison chapter is now the subject of a recent lawsuit regarding a student\’s alleged rape.[/media-credit]

As the Milwaukee County Circuit Court awaits a response to the lawsuit filed earlier this summer relating to the alleged rape at the University of Wisconsin Sigma Chi house last fall, ongoing and past cases may provide clues for future proceedings of the suit.

The civil lawsuit was filed by Milwaukee attorney Robert Elliot July 17 on behalf of a UW student who first told The Badger Herald in February she had been drugged and raped multiple times at the Sigma Chi house in the early morning of Oct. 5, 2008.

The suit names the UW chapter of Sigma Chi, its national office and its insurer as defendants in the case, stating the local chapter neglected to maintain a safe place for guests, leading to the woman’s injuries.


The suit also says Sigma Chi national headquarters did not maintain control over individual chapters, even after more than a dozen criminal complaints were made against chapters nationwide since 1987.

The woman, who is identified as “Jane Doe” in the suit, is seeking punitive damages as well as compensatory damages from each of the defendants, according to the suit.

Peer cases are progressing

Sigma Chi chapters at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Georgia are currently involved in court proceedings. While according to UW Law professor Shubha Ghosh cases like these could not be used as precedence for the Milwaukee suit, they could be used to establish legal facts to document a pattern of negligence by the national fraternity.

The University of Georgia chapter is currently facing two lawsuits stemming from events in the early morning of Sept. 27, 2008, when a woman suffered extensive injuries from a fall.

Like in the Milwaukee case, the woman has since sued for compensatory and punitive damages. Both cases partially rest on premises liability, which works to establish a legal obligation for the houses to be safe for guests.

The Milwaukee suit says under Wisconsin statute, the UW Sigma Chi house should be classified as a public residence, making it responsible for its guests. While it is unknown if the alleged rape at the UW chapter was performed by Sigma Chi members, under the statute the house would still be responsible for the woman’s safety.

The Georgia suit, however, is able to go into further detail to establish negligence by the house, citing the serving of alcoholic drinks to minors and lofted beds without railings, from where the victim fell, as preventable dangers.

Where’s the legal responsibility?

The Milwaukee suit names 14 previous cases against Sigma Chi chapters nationally to show “for a number of years prior to Oct. 4, 2008 [the national organization] has known that it has failed to even minimally discharge the duties it has undertaken to supervise and control the actions of [the UW chapter] and [the insurer] and their members….”

One particular case named involves a New York woman raped at the Sigma Chi chapter of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. in 1987. While Boston Globe archives from the period indicate the three men — none of them Sigma Chi members — indicted on rape charges did not serve jail time, the woman later filed a $5 million civil suit against Colgate and the fraternity in 1989. The Milwaukee suit states the woman was awarded an out-of-court settlement from the two parties.

Like the Milwaukee case, individuals allegedly responsible for the rape were not listed in the suit as the Colgate woman was found unable to properly identify them due to her intoxication at the time of the assault. Instead, the case alleged negligence on behalf of the university and fraternity.

Unlike the Milwaukee case, the Colgate woman was able to say without a doubt the rape took place in the Colgate Sigma Chi house. The UW woman was unconscious throughout the assault and can only say she awoke in the UW Sigma Chi house before discovering she was injured.

UW law professor Peter Carstensen said the woman is now tasked with providing enough evidence that the judge and jury can conclude her injuries occurred while she was present in the house.

He said this will have to be partially based on inferences of who did wrong, and the court will then have to decide what the owner of the house should have done differently.

Next, Carstensen said it is a matter of determining what the fraternity’s responsibility should be and the fact Sigma Chi houses non-members could play a role in that.

Because the fraternity is different from an apartment, Carstensen said it could be argued the building owner was more responsible for checking the background of people on its premises.

“That would point toward creating more legal responsibility and makes it easier for the victim to say, ‘You were negligent with respect to my injury because you didn’t check out your residents, as well as your members,'” Carstensen said. “The counterargument is, ‘Gee, we don’t know who did the harm, it may be someone we were responsible for or someone we were not.'”

An ongoing process in Milwaukee and Madison

As the defendants in the Milwaukee case were given a 45-day period to respond to the lawsuit, their answer is due back this week.

As of last week, Sigma Chi International Fraternity Executive Director Michael Dunn said the national organization was going through an investigative process before responding.

“At this point in time, I know of nothing that the criminal side of the investigation has come up with,” Dunn said “This is a civil suit, so until we get through that process we’re going to work with the university and the criminal organizations there and figure it out.”

The UW chapter of Sigma Chi and its insurer could not be reached for comment.

The woman and Elliot have both stated to the Herald they are not speaking to media on the case.

The University of Georgia suit: 72409frat_suit.pdf

The University of Madison suit: 1197_001.pdf

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