5 fraternity members file federal lawsuit against Syracuse University after suspension

Five unnamed members of Theta Tau fraternity have filed a federal lawsuit against Syracuse University, contesting the decision to suspend them after a series of disturbing videos filmed at fraternity events surfaced.

The videos depict “egregious behavior,” including sexual assault, violence, discriminatory mockery and hostility toward people with disabilities, University Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a statement Sunday.

But the complaint asserts that the videos do not depict unlawful behavior. “Several times, University officials have described the conduct as criminal despite District Attorney William Fitzpatrick stating there was ‘nothing’ criminal about the videos,” the complaint says. The suit seeks a reversal of their suspension and one million dollars in damages for each of the five members.

The university would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

Over the weekend, the university announced it had expelled the engineering fraternity from campus. “The University stands by the actions it took to protect the well-being of the campus community and maintain a respectful and safe learning environment,” said Sarah Scalese, Associate Vice President for Communications.

The Theta Tau central office vowed to take action based on findings from an investigation. “Theta Tau is deeply troubled by the recent events that occurred at our chapter at Syracuse University, and we strongly condemn the offensive actions and despicable language depicted in the recently released videos,” the central office said in a statement.

“We have cooperated fully with university and police officials, and we will pursue appropriate disciplinary measures in the near future to hold the individuals accountable for their actions.”

The central office did not respond to CNN’s request for comment about the lawsuit.

Why the students were removed

Syracuse said Monday that it removed the 18 students from classes as a precautionary measure.

“Out of an abundance of caution and ongoing concern for our campus community, Provost Michele Wheatly and Dean of Students Rob Hradsky notified the 18 students of their removal from academic participation, effective immediately,” Public Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado said in a statement.

“Alternative class and study arrangements will be made for these students as the judicial process moves forward,”

In addition to the 18, more students may be implicated as the investigation continues, he added.

The university will review the Greek life culture to establish new practices and require bias training for Greek and student organization leaders, members and advisers, and mandatory student training will be implemented, Syverud wrote in a letter to alumni last week.