Sorority Hazing Allegations: LA Woman Sues SJSU

By Fred Mamoun
|  Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 12:28 PM PDT
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Courtney Howard was an A-student and excited about joining a sorority, but she says she got more than she bargained for.

Courtney Howard was an A-student and excited about joining a sorority, but she says she got more than she bargained for.

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Although hazing is illegal in California and most states, a young woman from west Los Angeles is suing a state university for allegedly not doing enough to protect her.

Courtney Howard was an A-student at San Jose State University. And she was excited about joining a sorority, but she says she got more than she bargained for.

"When I first started, it was a hard adjustment being away from home," said Howard.

Howard was starting her sophomore year at SJSU in 2008 when she decided to join a sorority.

"I was really interested in Sigma Gamma Rho," she said.

The sorority promised it didn't haze, plus it's against the law in California.

Howard describes her first night as pledge: "I remember them hitting me. It hurt really bad, and I remember that night, I went home and cried."

Howard says then they beat her with a wooden cane.

"I had welts and bruises all over my butt to the point where I couldn't even lay down because it hurt so bad," said Howard.

Howard's attorney says there is a psychological aspect to this type of hazing.

"With African-American fraternities and sororities, there's often this notion that this is being done to allow young people to empathize with what their ancestors went through, through slavery," said attorney John Griggs.

Howard says after three weeks of being thrown against walls, paddled with wooden spoons and punched, she complained to the university.

"They really did nothing," said Griggs.

The school disputes that.

"San Jose State University absolutely prohibits hazing. Hazing is against the law, so the line is pretty clear," said SJSU spokesperson Pat Lopes-Harris.

Howard left San Jose State and has since filed a lawsuit against the university, the sorority and the girls she says tortured her.

"The schools and sororities just keep it under cover and don't let people know that these are the problems that we have. It's just going to continue," Howard said.

As a result of the police investigation, four sorority members have pleaded no contest to misdemeanor hazing charges and were sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years probation.

San Jose State would not comment on Howard's lawsuit.

The Sigma Gamma Rho sorority would also not comment on Howard's lawsuit, but did note that hazing is not permitted.

The university has suspended the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority until 2016.

Howard is trying to get on with her life. She's finishing her degree at UCLA.

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