Former Student Sues Sigma Gamma Rho and San Jose State University for Illegal Hazing

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Former San Jose State student and Sigma Gamma Rho pledge subjected to illegal hazing activity -- including slapping, slamming into walls and the floor, hitting with wooden spoons, punching and paddling – sues the sorority and university for compensatory and punitive damages. She was threatened with "snitches get stitches" if she reported the conduct.

Spearheaded by Managing Partner Angela Reddock, the law firm of Reddock, Wells & Griggs, LLP announced today that the firm has filed a lawsuit against San Jose State University, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and its San Jose Campus Chapter Rho Zeta, and individual sorority members, among others, on behalf of 20-year-old Courtney Howard, a former San Jose State student and Sigma Gamma Rho pledge who was subjected to illegal hazing activity during August and September 2008 -- including slapping, slamming into walls and the floor, hitting with wooden spoons, punching and paddling – and retaliation for reporting the conduct. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery, negligence, hazing and emotional distress.

“Both university officials and sorority representatives were aware of a history of hazing at the school and in the Rho Zeta Chapter, but admitted they were unsure how to address these physically and emotionally harmful, often criminally negligent rituals,” said Reddock. “This lawsuit should force the school and the Greek system to develop enforceable, standard-setting policies and procedures to end this cruel and outdated hazing practice once and for all.”

Howard, who was an excellent student, student body leader, and community volunteer in high school and now in college, enrolled in San Jose State University because of its excellent Spanish-language education program. Howard plans to teach high school level Spanish after graduate school. She decided to join a sorority because of the perceived “sisterhood” and the multiple opportunities such groups have to serve their communities. After investigating various sororities on campus, Howard was accepted as a pledge in Sigma Gamma Rho.

“Snitches Get Stitches”
According to the lawsuit, almost immediately after pledging began, Howard realized the sorority had not been truthful when it promised the initiation process would not involve physical hazing. At that point, however, “dropping the line” appeared just as hazardous because of both veiled and blatant threats sorority members repeated, most alarmingly such phrases as “snitches get stitches” and warnings about being “jumped out” (beat up) if pledges mentioned the hazing conduct or declined to continue pledging. After about two weeks of abuse – and three doctor visits for medical attention – Howard made the courageous decision to report the activity and remove herself from consideration. After attempting and failing to resolve the matter at the university level, Howard filed a police report in January 2009, and by February 10, 2010, four sorority members were convicted of illegal hazing. (Santa Clara Criminal Court, CC950364)

"Because school officials never completed a full, conclusive investigation, and because sorority members began to harass, retaliate, and threaten Howard, she was forced to withdraw from San Jose State the following semester," said Reddock. "As a result, Howard’s education was delayed for one year as she sought transfer to other universities. She eventually enrolled in the University of Southern California, a significantly more expensive private school to which many of her credits did not transfer. Because both the sorority and the university have failed to address hazing issues in a manner that protects its student body, and because that failure caused Howard physical, emotion and financial harm, she had no other recourse than to file this lawsuit. Through the lawsuit, Howard’s primary goal is to take a stand against hazing and to bring public attention to an issue often covered up due to fear and retaliation."

The lawsuit is filed in Santa Clara Superior Court. Howard v. The California State University (110CV181349, August 31, 2010).

About Reddock, Wells & Griggs, LLP

Based in downtown Los Angeles, Reddock, Wells & Griggs, LLP is a minority-owned business law firm that provides high-quality, results-oriented and cost-effective legal representation to Fortune 500 companies, mid-sized businesses, public benefit corporations and governmental entities, improving their business outcomes and addressing their legal challenges. A hallmark of Reddock, Wells & Griggs, LLP is its commitment to diversity, with core values that include respect and dignity for all; diversity within the firm; and support for diversity within its community and among clients, staff and vendors. Attorney Angela Reddock is the Managing Partner of the firm.

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Brenda McGann

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