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Pennsylvania State University Publishes Their First “Piazza Law” Report

On Tuesday, January 15th Pennsylvania State University complied with the provisions of the recently-enacted Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law (18 Pa.C.S. § 2809 et seq) by publishing its report on “hazing” and other types of potentially-dangerous conduct carried out by fraternities, sororities, and other organizations with ties to the multi-campus Penn State system. In today’s post, the fraternity hazing lawyer at The Doan Law Firm presents a summary of that report.

The tragic accident surrounding the Piazza law

The incident that spurred the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law was one of the most morally repugnant examples of deliberate, and criminal, misconduct in the history of “Greek Life” and ‘higher education.”

Timothy John Piazza was a 19-year-old sophomore at Pennsylvania State University and a pledge of the school’s chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. During the evening and night of February 2, 2017, he was a willing participant in a fraternity initiation/hazing ritual called “the gauntlet,” which required that he consume vodka, beer, and wine over a short period of time.

During the evening, security cameras documented an obviously-intoxicated Piazza falling down a stairway leading to the fraternity house basement. When his fraternity “brothers” later found the unconscious Piazza, he was placed on a couch in the living area of the fraternity residence. Rather than summoning emergency medical services to attend to Piazza, the fraternity members spent the next several hours waiting for Piazza to “sober up” while discussing what they should do since the fraternity was already on probation for previous alcohol and conduct policy violations.

Some 12 hours after his fall, fraternity members called emergency services but attempted to change Piazza’s clothing to make it appear that the fall had just occurred and did not inform responders that he had been injured hours earlier. Despite what were termed “heroic” efforts at saving his life, Piazza died two days later from the consequences of blood loss and brain swelling.

Frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of effort to investigate the circumstances of their son’s death, his parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Penn State and Beta Theta Pi. That lawsuit was settled out of court in late 2018 although the terms of settlement were sealed.

Piazza’s parents also lobbied the state legislature to make hazing resulting in death a felony (up to 7 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000) as well providing that “organizations and institutions” could be criminally charged with hazing. Their efforts were rewarded in October of 2018, when the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law went into effect. The law also requires that all Pennsylvania schools and colleges file twice-yearly reports detailing hazing activities.

Summary of Pennsylvania State University’s report

The Penn State report covers the period from January 1, 2013 to the end of Fall Semester 2018 and documents the activities that led to a total of thirty-one disciplinary sanctions placed against “recognized student organizations”. The fraternities sanctioned include:

  • In October 2014 the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity (Altoona Campus) was suspended for six years after requiring new members to consume alcohol and drugs as well as undergo confinement and physical abuse during initiation.

  • In May 2016 the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (University Park Campus) had its charter suspended by its national headquarters for a period of three years after the local chapter was found to have physically abused its new members.

  • The Beta Theta Pi fraternity (University Park Campus) was permanently expelled from campus in March 2017 over the involvement of its members in the death of Timothy Piazza

Penn State’s report also demonstrated that hazing activity is not restricted to all-male fraternities, with two sororities and two extracurricular organizations receiving sanctions during the time frame covered by the report:

  • At the Gamma Beta Phi sorority (Penn State-Altoona) new members were verbally abused and subjected to demeaning activities such as forced to consume alcohol and being required to lick members’ toes. The sorority was suspended for two semesters on Feb. 2, 2018.

  • In February 2016 the Zeta Phi Beta sorority (Harrisburg Campus) was suspended until 2021 after being found to have committed multiple violations of Penn State’s policies regarding new member recruitment and member conduct.

  • In 2014, potential new members of the University Park campus’ a cappella group, the Shades of Blue were ordered to consume excessive amounts of alcohol. The organization was later suspended for two semesters by the Student Organization Conduct Committee.

  • The Altoona campus’ women’s soccer team was found to have subjected new team members to verbal abuse, forced alcohol consumption, and requiring new members to publicly wear clothing that identified the wearer using derogatory words. Sanctions imposed against the team included cancellation of half the regular season’s competition and a ban on any off-season competition.

As a law firm that represents victims of hazing and other types of institutional/organizational misconduct, we are aware that many hazing injury cases tend to “quietly disappear” once they are brought to the attention of the host school. The new Pennsylvania law should, at least, deter this practice within that state but there are 49 other states and hazing isn’t even a crime in 5 of those!

If your child was injured as a result of fraternity or sorority hazing, we invite you to contact the fraternity hazing lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a nationwide hazing injury practice with offices located in major cities across the country.

When you contact us, your initial consultation and case review is always free of any charges and does require that you hire us as your legal counsel. If you later decide to file a lawsuit and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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