Former students lose appeal against university
Court rules university did not discriminate
by Allison Petty
Three former students who accused the university of discrimination after they were suspended for hazing in 2004 do not have a federal case, an appeals court ruled last week.
The plaintiffs claimed the university treated them more harshly than white students who had committed the same actions, as well as deprived them of the right to due process during disciplinary hearings, according to court documents. But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs did not have enough evidence to uphold the discrimination charges.
The judgment also stated that students do not have a property right to a college education and therefore could not be deprived of property without due process.
Debbie Nelson, associate general counsel, attended oral arguments that occurred on Feb. 29.
“(The appeals court) ruled in accordance with the law and sustaining the trial court’s judgment,” Nelson said.
Nakia Collins, Monet Williams and Tequeira Johnson filed the appeal after their lawsuit against the university was dismissed in August 2007. The three women, all former members of the traditionally black Zeta Phi Beta sorority, filed a lawsuit in summer 2005 alleging the university discriminated against them and denied their rights during Student Judicial Affairs disciplinary hearings.
Collins, Williams and Johnson were accused of hazing and found guilty by Student Judicial Affairs. Each was suspended for three years, with their transcripts frozen during that time. Williams’ suspension was later reduced to two years.
Richard Fedder, a Carbondale attorney who represents the women, said he believes students have a right to due process within university disciplinary procedures, though the court did not uphold this opinion.
He said he found parts of the court’s ruling to be confusing and troubling.
Fedder added that though the lawsuit was not about whether the women committed the original crime, he believed they were innocent of the hazing.
“Our position, and the truth, has always been that these ladies didn’t do anything,” Fedder said.
The documents name five individual defendants: Walter Wendler, former university chancellor; Terry Huffman, director of Student Judicial Affairs; Khamisi Grace, hearing officer for Student Judicial Affairs; Nancy Hunter Pei, assistant to the vice chancellor for Student Affairs; and Chuck Leonard, a university police officer.
If the plaintiffs wanted to continue their appeals, the case’s next destination would have to be the U.S. Supreme Court, Nelson said.
Fedder said he does not have the resources to pursue the case at that level.