A federal judge in Wyoming has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG), a women-only fraternal organization (KKG is referenced as a “sorority” within this post). The aggrieved parties were seven sorority sisters of KKG, who chose to keep their identities anonymous to avoid “death threats” according to one court filing. As a sorority, KKG’s membership is limited to women. The federal complaint claimed that KKG had admitted a “male” member by admitting a transgender female student, Artemis Langford, to its membership. The complaint, spanning sixty-nine pages, stated various claims about biological imperatives and “cellular” differences between “male” and “female” biological sexes, along with a review of the sorority’s policies and bylaws.
Claims and Requested Relief
The plaintiffs claimed KKG had violated its policies and bylaws by admitting Ms. Langford to its membership. The lawsuit requested a court order declaring Ms. Langford’s initiation void ab initio, a declaratory judgment stating that KKG had violated its obligations to its membership, injunctive relief, and monetary damages.
Court’s Decision and Rationale
Since 2015, KKG’s bylaws have defined their organization as a “single-gender” organization welcoming “individuals who identify as women.” The court held that it “may not invade Kappa Kappa Gamma’s freedom of expressive association” to welcome whomever it chooses as members and to administer its bylaws and regulations as it sees fit. Further, the court noted that the seven plaintiffs had failed to outline how the organization unreasonably applied or violated the terms outlined within its bylaws in the first instance.
KKG further noted in one filing that the aggrieved parties are voluntary members of a private organization, and may decline to participate in the sorority if the values of the organization are opprobrious to their personal beliefs. The case was dismissed “without prejudice” leaving open the possibility that the plaintiffs may re-file their complaint after further developing their claims.
A Cultural Parallel to Boy Scouts of America v. Dale
This case may be cast as a cultural foil to the 2000 Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale in which SCOTUS cited the freedom of association in declaring that the Boy Scouts were within their rights to exclude homosexual people from the organization’s membership, despite a state law requiring equal treatment of homosexual people in places of public accommodation. Both Dale and the KKG lawsuit enshrine the principle of free association—permitting private organizations to stake their own positions in the culture wars of their day, and to be free from judicial intervention in doing so.
Implications for Student Rights and Organizational Policies
For students, the principle of free association imparts upon students their fundamental right to associate with organizations that align with their personal values. KKG’s trans-inclusive membership policy mirrors those of all twenty-five other sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference, the umbrella organization for sororities in the U.S. and Canada. However, as the court made clear in the KKG case, it is left to the members of those organizations to interpret and administer their policies and bylaws, potentially leading to incongruous results.
Legal Assistance for Discrimination and Exclusion Issues
Navigating the specific policies and bylaws of sororities and fraternal organizations can be a daunting task for any student.