Former Penn State fraternity member alleges harsh hazing in lawsuit

Story highlights

  • A former fraternity member has filed a lawsuit against Penn State and its Kappa Delta Rho chapter
  • James Vivenzio, 21, claims the university was aware of hazing but did not act to stop it
  • Penn State "strongly disputes" the claims, saying Vivenzio and his family were unwilling to file a formal complaint

(CNN)His lawsuit describes a litany of hazing abuses: Cigarette burns, physical assault, public humiliation and the forced guzzling of hard liquor until vomiting was induced.

James Vivenzio, a former Pennsylvania State University fraternity member, claims his Kappa Delta Rho brothers subjected him to that and more as a freshman pledge in 2012.
Vivenzio, now 21, filed the lawsuit on Monday against Penn State, the national and local chapters of Kappa Delta Rho and other university organizations.
    He claims that despite meeting with a Penn State official who "vowed to promptly and thoroughly investigate" these activities, no disciplinary action was taken by the university until Vivenzio brought evidence of hazing to police in State College, Pennsylvania.
    Vivenzio is suing for alleged negligence, battery, unlawful furnishing of alcohol to a minor, furnishing liquor to one obviously intoxicated, false imprisonment, fraud and conversion.
    Vivenzio claims he was the victim of extreme hazing throughout the 2012-2013 school year.

    A nasty concoction for consumption

    Such hazing allegedly included "physically and mentally abusive late-night line-ups that featured force-feeding bucketfuls of liquor mixed with urine, vomit, hot sauce and other liquid and semi-solid ingredients" and hours spent "scrubbing floors and to pick up large quantities of garbage that was deliberately strewn about the fraternity house," according to the lawsuit.
    The lawsuit also claims the fraternity got some of its funding by converting the prepaid food plans of its pledges into funds for social events and confiscating and selling the prescription drugs of its pledges.
    Vivenzio is also the whistleblower who brought evidence of an invitation-only Kappa Delta Rho Facebook page to State College Police in January.
    The Facebook page was used to "post photos of, among other subjects, female students naked, unconscious, and in some case, in the act of being sexually assaulted," the lawsuit reads.
    He told authorities that it had also been used by members to share photos of drug sales, which allegedly included "marijuana and edibles, concentrates, ADD medication, and some cocaine," according to a copy of a police affidavit.
    Vivenzio told authorities that a second Facebook page called "2.0" allegedly had been created around April 2014 after complaints from a woman whose photo was posted on it, the affidavit said. The earlier version of the page was titled "Covert Business Transactions."
    Vivenzio told police that the victim was visiting the fraternity when she saw a topless photo of herself after a member accidentally left his Facebook page logged in, the affidavit said.
    The affidavit included photos of women and screen shots of text exchanges, including one from a woman who allegedly had no recollection of a sexual encounter and whether birth control was used.
    Vivenzio and his family approached university administrators about the hazing in April 2014, the lawsuit says.
    They met with a senior investigator from Penn State's Office of Student Conduct and informed the investigator of both the hazing and of the Facebook page, who in turn "vowed" to investigate. However, "despite assurances, the University did absolutely nothing," the lawsuit claims.

    Penn State 'strongly disputes' allegations

    Penn State "strongly disputes" the allegations made in Vivenzio's lawsuit.
    "Our staff offered him extraordinary assistance on numerous occasions, and went to great lengths to do so over the course of nearly nine months -- even sending the director of the Office of Student Conduct to their home to interview them," according to a statement from Penn State.
    "Neither he nor his family were willing to file a complaint, provide documentation, speak with State College Police or participate in pursuing the formal disciplinary process available to them, despite repeated encouragement from University staff."
    The university also disputes the fact that Vivenzio informed them of the private Facebook page, instead stating that officials became aware of the page when informed by State College police in February.
    Penn State's Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, both named as additional defendants in the lawsuit, did not respond to CNN's request for comment. Nor did Penn's State's chapter of Kappa Delta Rho.

    Suspension for fraternity chapter

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    In May, Penn State announced a three-year suspension for its Kappa Delta Rho chapter. Vivenzio's lawsuit claims the suspension came as a result of the hazing and sexual misconduct he brought to police.
    Kappa Delta Rho's National Leadership announced Monday the expulsion of 38 members from its Penn State chapter. After receiving notice from Penn State on its suspension decision, the fraternity's national office conducted a "membership review and reorganization."
    "Our review was guided by a deep commitment to our values, among which is respect for all persons at all times. It is clear that the conduct of some members of our Penn State chapter did not meet this standard," said Joseph Rosenberg, executive director of Kappa Delta Rho's National Fraternity.
    Aaron Freiwald, Vivenzio's attorney, calls the suspension and fraternity expulsion a "mere slap on the wrist."
    "The fraternity wasn't shut down, its members weren't kicked off campus, and they were not punished or sanctioned in any meaningful way," Freiwald told CNN.
    "This lawsuit is an effort to push Penn State and the fraternity to take real action. My client believes he has suffered and he has. This is about his story, but it's also about the broader issue of ending hazing and sexual assault on campuses."
    Vivenzio is seeking judgment against the university and the fraternity as well as "compensatory damages in an amount that is in excess of local arbitration limits, as well as all interests and costs as Pennsylvania law permits and any and all other relief that the court or a jury may deem appropriate."
    Vivenzio has since left Penn State. He failed his classes freshman year as a result of the hazing and entered rehabilitation and therapy programs for alcohol abuse, the lawsuit says. Earlier this year, he was hospitalized as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, the lawsuit says.
    His attorney says he is "recuperating and working and living with his family for the time being."
    "I never intended to become a whistleblower, but when I saw what was going on, and the abuse that myself and others were repeatedly experiencing, and that the university was totally ignoring my documented allegations over several months, they left me no choice but to go to the police before more people -- pledges and other innocent students -- got hurt, physically and emotionally," Vivenzio said in a statement.
    "I'm no hero, and I'm certainly no martyr. But I do believe Penn State can and must do much more -- and do it candidly -- to stop hazing and sexual violence and should commit to lead by example," Vivenzio said.