June 1, 1998

Freshman Sues Fraternity

A N.C. A&T University freshman who was denied membership to a fraternity is now suing the fraternity for more than $10,000 for his humiliation and embarrassment.

Travis Powell filed the lawsuit in February, a month after he was asked to leave a meeting sponsored by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity to recruit new members. Fraternity brothers asked Powell to leave the "smoker," or rush meeting, because he was a freshman, according to the lawsuit.

The fraternity's national laws do not allow freshmen to become members, said Charles Blackmon, a Greensboro attorney who is defending the president of the local fraternity chapter, Cedric Rogers. Blackmon has filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing in Guilford Superior Court is scheduled for the last week of May.

"I think it (the lawsuit) is frivolous," Blackmon said. "He could easily have pledged next year. I don't understand the sense of urgency."

In the lawsuit, Powell claims the fraternity broke a contract when it refused to let him join. Powell frequently attended parties, played softball and traveled to step shows at other colleges with the fraternity brothers. He claims the brothers promised that he could join the fraternity this spring.

Powell declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Steve Allen.

"The whole idea is to do the right thing," Allen said. When asked why his client filed a lawsuit instead of waiting until next year to pledge, Allen said: "Next year was not what was promised to him." He declined to comment further.

Tom Metzloff, a law professor at Duke University, said the lawsuit is very weak. He doubts that Powell can prove he had a contract with the fraternity.

"I don't see any promise here," Metzloff said. "I'm sure there's an awful lot of people who are told by fraternities 'You are our kind of guy' and he goes through the rush process and then they find out ... he's really not their kind of guy."

Although the university is not named as a defendant, Allen has criticized it in court documents.

"A&T was joined to the hip in the initial wrong of the defendants, blessed it, ratified it as its own action," Allen wrote in a court document. "It allowed the wrong to occur on state property and in a state building funded with taxpayer dollars."

Powell went to Dorothy Harris, assistant vice chancellor of student development, for help before he filed the lawsuit. But Harris said she could not force the fraternity to let him join.

"I checked into it and the fraternity's national constitution says very clearly they accept sophomores, juniors and seniors," Harris said. "I don't have that kind of authority to overturn a policy like that."

The university allows freshmen to join Greek organizations. But it does not interfere if fraternities and sororities have stricter membership requirements than the university, Harris said. No freshman has joined that fraternity at least since Harris began working at the university in 1989, she said.

The lawsuit has brought a lot of ridicule and embarrassment to the fraternity, Blackmon said, and the brothers are eager to put it behind them. Travis Powell has strong family ties to the fraternity. His older brother, Myron Powell, joined last year and his father, Ronald Powell, became a member in 1973 and is still active.

"He feels, for whatever reason, he has an entitlement to join (the fraternity), and it doesn't work that way," Blackmon said. Ronald Powell tried to intervene on behalf of his son, calling the national and regional fraternity offices to convince them that an injustice was done, according to a court affidavit.

"I was told that I should back off as it may hurt Travis' ability to pledge in the future," Ronald Powell wrote in his affidavit. "It is extremely unlikely that my son, Travis Powell, will be able to join the Alpha Nu undergraduate chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc."

Powell even tried to stop the fraternity from initiating new members this spring until the lawsuit was settled, but a judge denied the request.

"Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the court of the likelihood of prevailing at trial," Judge Russell Walker Jr. wrote in his decision.

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