Monday, March 21, 2011

Nebraska-Lincoln Hazing Lawsuits Settled

Hazing lawsuits against fraternity, university settled

By Kevin Abourezk

Two former University of Nebraska-Lincoln fraternity pledges who said they were hazed by members of Sigma Chi have settled their lawsuits against the university, the fraternity and its members.

Attorneys for Drew Lechner and the other former pledge, whom the Journal Star has chosen not to identify, filed dismissal motions Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court. Judge Steven Burns still must approve the motions.

The University of Nebraska will pay $62,500 to settle each lawsuit, according to the NU general counsel's office. Other details of the settlement, including amounts paid by other defendants, were not available Wednesday.

"No liability was admitted by any of the defendants," the university said in a statement. "Settlements were made to avoid incurring further costs associated with litigation.

Jerald Rauterkus, an attorney for Sigma Chi, declined to comment, citing a confidentiality order in the case. Attorneys for the other defendants, Lechner and the other pledge could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The settlement followed a Feb. 10 court-ordered mediation. The university had filed cross claims against the fraternity that also were resolved through mediation.

Lechner said he was hazed repeatedly from fall 2008 to early 2009 while a pledge at Sigma Chi. The other pledge said he was assaulted by a stripper holding a sex toy during an off-campus fraternity party.

Lechner's lawsuit named NU, Sigma Chi, 14 of its members, its building corporation and its national organization. In it, he said he was verbally assaulted, paddled, forced to drink alcoholic concoctions and perform humiliating acts with other fraternity hopefuls -- all at the direction of older members, some of them fraternity officers.

The other pledge's lawsuit named the university, Sigma Chi, nine members, the building corporation and the national organization.

The UNL police investigation of Sigma Chi led to charges of hazing, procuring alcohol for a minor, or both, against nine Sigma Chi members. All but one got probation.

In May, former Sigma Chi President Michael Classen was sentenced to five days in jail and a $500 fine for hazing and procuring alcohol.

In September 2009, UNL suspended the fraternity for four years.

The suspension may be shortened if the fraternity succeeds in ensuring that its members conform to the university's Student Code of Conduct as well as legal requirements regarding the use of alcohol and appropriate treatment of students, the university said.

Juan Franco, UNL vice chancellor for student affairs, said university officials plan to meet with Sigma Chi leaders this spring to talk about when the fraternity might be reinstated.

"When they come back is still pretty much in the air," he said.

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