Phi Kappa Tau fraternity facing lawsuit

Photo by Brenda Lin

Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) fraternity, which was kicked off campus last March, is being sued by two women who say that they were sexually assaulted at the fraternity.

“We’re standing behind these two young women to make it safe for young women, to get justice for them and for young women everywhere to be safe from predators,” said B.J. Bernstein, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuits allege that the defendants, named only as Jane Doe and June Doe, were sexually assaulted as a result of negligence by the national fraternity Phi Kappa Tau Inc., the Tech chapter of Phi Kappa Tau and the chapter’s advisor Robert Tobey who failed to prevent “the Chapter at Georgia Tech devolv[ing] into unprecedented levels of pro-rape attitudes and misogyny.”

As previously reported by the Technique, Caleb Ackermann, a member of PKT at Tech was arrested on February 24 for the sexual assault of an unnamed victim, Jane Doe.

According to police reports, another woman, named as June Doe in the lawsuit, came forward to Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) later to say that she had been sexually assaulted by Ackermann in November of 2013.

Both women, according to the police reports, were given alcohol by Ackermann and other fraternity members before blacking out, at which point they were sexually assaulted by Ackermann. Ackermann was later expelled from Tech by the Office of Student Integrity for violating the Student Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy .

In the lawsuit, as a result of the assault, Jane “suffered suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks and extreme emotional distress, physical and emotional injuries, and continues treatment with a psychological counselor.”

The lawsuit claims that the fraternity was a dangerous environment to women, and point to the infamous “rapebait” e-mail which widely circulated in October 2013.

In the e-mail Matthew Peterson, who served as the fraternity’s social chair, advised recipients to make sure that girls who arrived at the fraternity house had plenty to drink and that “if anything ever fails, go get more alcohol.”

The lawsuit also points to the e-mails from the fraternity’s listserve, meeting minutes and songs sung by fraternity members. This includes details previously reported by the Technique including a quote from meeting minutes saying “Rape is good,” and the lyrics to a song called “S&M man” which describes graphic scenes of rape and murder.

The lawsuit also makes previously-unreported claims such as that the fraternity members kept a “conquest board” listing women who fraternity members had slept with, including Jane Doe. It also tracked women who had been “conquested” by multiple members and was in the possession of a fraternity member after the chapter was disbanded.

The lawsuit also reports that on the listserve, members encourages others to pick up “former rape baits” at Take Back the Night, a candlelight vigil for sexual assault survivors.

According to the dismissal letter from OSI which disbanded the fraternity until 2017, the reasons for Phi Kappa Tau’s expulsion include a “pattern of sexual violence that… suggests a deep-rooted culture within the fraternity that is obscene, indecent and endangers women.”

Both cases assert that the defendants knew or reasonably should have known that the culture of the fraternity would result in harm to an individual. It also claims that the national fraternity and chapter were negligent in failing either to discover evidence of pro-rape culture from the meeting minutes or choosing not to punish the chapter for them. According to the lawsuit, Tobey, as chapter advisor, was present at several of the chapter meetings in which rape comments were made and failed to act on that information.

The national fraternity released a statement in response to the lawsuits defending the fraternity.

“The complaints highlight an offensive e-mail and disturbing statements made in 2013 by chapter members and attempt to somehow link the alleged sexual assaults in 2012 and 2014 to that conduct,” the statement said. “The Fraternity is disappointed that the plaintiffs’ attorneys chose to exploit the hypersensitivity of today’s college environment towards sexual assault by drafting the complaints in a manner that sensationalizes completely inappropriate statements, while at the same time alleging that a Georgia Tech student committed criminal rapes of two different women.”

The statement also says that “no criminal charges have been filed against the student involved.” While Ackermann has been arrested, he has not been indicted. The criminal case, however, is still open.

According to a GTPD report, two other fraternity members were cited for furnishing alcohol to minors on the same night as the alleged sexual assault of Jane Doe. Those cases are closed according to the GTPD log.

Both lawsuits were filed on October 29th by Douglas Fierberg and Berstein. The counts include negligence, premises liability, negligent infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.