Harvard drops single-sex club ban after lawsuit by fraternities, sororities

FILE PHOTO: Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - Harvard University on Monday said it would discontinue its policy of sanctioning students who joined single-sex clubs, citing a lawsuit by a group of U.S. fraternities and sororities who said the crackdown amounted to sexual discrimination.

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said it appeared clear the Ivy League school would lose the lawsuit following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that a federal law barring workplace discrimination protects gay and transgender employees.

Bacow in an email to faculty and students said Harvard's policy on single-sex clubs did not concern sexual orientation and was adopted to counteract "overt" discrimination in which students were excluded from groups based on their gender.

But he said the Supreme Court's June 15 decision had "significant implications" for Harvard's policy, as it upheld a decision a Boston federal judge in August relied upon in allowing the lawsuit against the school to move forward.

Harvard stopped formally recognizing single-sex clubs in 1984. But groups known as "final clubs," informal social clubs a student joins before graduating, as well as some fraternities and sororities continued to operate off campus.

The policy at issue was adopted in 2016 and first enforced with the 2017 freshman class.

Under it, students who joined single-sex clubs could not serve as captains of sports teams or leaders of officially recognized student clubs and cannot receive endorsement letters from college deans for postgraduate fellowships.

The fraternities Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma sued in 2018, saying Harvard was discriminating against students on the basis of their sex.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton allowed the lawsuit to move forward, finding it plausibly alleged Harvard was discriminating based on gender as it barred men but not women from joining all-male clubs and vice versa.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston)