Sorority Girls* Make A Federal Case Of It

Many legal disputes seem so terribly important to the litigants, while remarkably petty to outsiders, but few are as ridiculously insignificant as this battle between two sisters of Alpha Sigma Alpha at Penn State. That didn’t stop them from going to federal court.

Molly Brownstein, a Pennsylvania State University senior, and her family describe her roommate Rachel Lader as a classic mean girl – a “monster” and an “expert bully, with a Ph.D. in intimidation.”

Lader denies this and paints Brownstein as a coddled whiner, quick to turn to her parents to solve problems she created with her own standoffish behavior.

Harsh. It must be horrifying, exhausting, to be a sister of this sorority. Sorry, it’s wrong of me to trivialize their pain.

This week, Lader, a rising senior and aspiring lawyer, filed a defamation and breach-of-contract lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia alleging that Brownstein’s parents – donors to the university and active alumni – used their influence at the school to manipulate a baseless disciplinary proceeding against her that ended with her being placed on academic probation and threatened with expulsion.

The Brownsteins’ primary complaints?

Lader allegedly played music too loud in the Barcelona apartment that the girls shared during a study-abroad trip earlier this year, brought a man back to their hotel room in Prague, and once – in a fit of frustration over Brownstein’s purported slovenliness – dumped a colander filled with pasta on her roommate’s bed.

And lest you think it’s just one co-ed’s word against another, there is hard proof behind this:

Brownstein’s story is detailed in an eight-page memo penned by her mother, Amy, filed with Penn State and included with Lader’s filings with the court this week.

The document, titled “A Mother’s Perspective,” details a string of slights that she says she observed from nearly 4,000 miles away.

She writes that Lader left her daughter behind on a planned trip to Copenhagen, actively sought to exclude her from conversation, then insisted during a trip to Prague on bringing a man back to their shared hotel room, forcing Brownstein to find other accommodations for the night.

This is a new one for me, the inclusion of an eight-page memo from mommy. It might not be solid evidence of its contents, but it’s damn strong evidence that somebody’s parent makes helicopter sounds, and that her li’l darling is a bit on the coddled whiner end of the spectrum.

But how, one might reasonably ask, does this nonsense get into federal court?  Well, thank the trend toward every slight (“exclude her from conversation”?!?) being fodder for campus adjudication for that.

Her lawsuit, which names the Brownstein family and Penn State as defendants, asks a judge to vacate her disciplinary record and award damages for defamation and inflicting emotional distress.

Penn State got involved at the Brownsteins’ request in March, launching a disciplinary investigation against Lader while both women were attending school in Spain.

Lader was the target of a campus adjudication for Brownstein’s harassment complaints, and complains that Penn State treated her unfairly.

Lader contends in her lawsuit that the process was stacked against her from the start, and that the school’s investigators discounted any evidence she provided and relied primarily on the Brownsteins’ account.

It must really suck when the school’s investigators favor one side to the exclusion of the other, even though that happens occasionally, giving rise to the mantra “believe the victims.”  And as is so often the case, the harm suffered is devastating.

“Rachel bullied me to the point where I had to leave in the middle of the night in an area where people get stabbed outside my building,” she wrote in a memo filed with the university included in Lader’s lawsuit. “Whenever I think about it, it brings me to a full-on terrible place and makes me completely depressed.”

Lader, in her court filings this week, balks at all of this, claiming she was the victim of a coordinated campaign to tarnish her academic record, leaving her a nervous wreck, suffering from maladies including migraines, anxiety, and colitis, which prompted a five-day hospital stay last month.

What parent can bear her daughter being turned into a “nervous wreck”?  And given that it prompted a five-day hospital stay, can anyone doubt the depth of harm suffered?

But there remains an intractable problem that District Judge Timothy Savage will be asked to resolve. You see, the two women have signed a lease to room together off campus, and neither is willing to relinquish their leasehold, despite Penn State’s alleged efforts to extort a resolution to this dilemma.

According to emails filed with the suit, the school proposed that if Lader would break the lease and move out, Penn State would drop its probe.

Lader calls the proposed deal extortion. She refused, and days later received a letter saying she had been charged with harassment, a violation of the student code of conduct.

And with move-in day approaching on their new apartment this weekend, neither woman has shown an intention to back down on the issue of breaking the lease.

Will Judge Savage drop everything to address this pending disaster? Will this be resolved by the internal Alpha Sigma Alpha dance-off?  Will this be a new reality television show on Bravo? Inquiring minds want to know.

H/T Josh Blackman, who closely follows all federal court sorority sister disputes.

* And, as required by social justice etiquette:


17 thoughts on “Sorority Girls* Make A Federal Case Of It

  1. losingtrader

    Normally, I’d wait for a few comments so i don’t monopolize your blog, but I have deep experience with this matter and can suggest a few slights that can never be proven. I just admitted these to my freshman roommate after 38 years, and he’s still sorta pissed off.

    1) Urinate on your roommate’s bed, throw the sheets and pilow case in the dryer, then re-make the bed
    2) If there’s a shared laundry room, squeeze the contents of a bottle of ketchup into the dryer
    3) Wait until just before finals week, then sell your roommates’ books back to the co-op or other textbook service

    These girls have no imagination.

    1. SHG Post author

      Stop being sexist. It’s all Milliennials. They’re slackers.

      I nicknamed my freshman roommate “Phal,” and got everybody to call him that. He’s now a judge in Florida.

  2. Jim Tyre

    First, from where does one get a Ph.D in intimidation? It seems a whole lot more useful than one in basket weaving or Greek philosophy.

    Second, why do you pooh pooh the mommy memo? We all know that many litigants are too close to the situation to see the forest for the trees. A view from afar (4,000 miles sounds about right) would seem to be the distance so much needed in many cases.

    1. Bruce Coulson

      I thought becoming a CDL and becoming an expert in cross-examination conferred a degree in intimidation automatically…

      Becoming a non-com in the military works as well.

  3. John Barleycorn

    Themes and all most likely keep your phone ringing.

    But just for flavors sake…
    Get your consise together with the italics.

    If it ain’t there, it ain’t there; keep lifting to what end?

    After seeing your freshman grin (help us all to forget). Your “rage” is obviously acquired but help us balance your Harlod and Maude when the leaves blow your Catcher in the Rye.

    You don’t do Hagel and your “bondage” has made a mockery of the tightest weave. Nylon is your the squeeze of drying hemp, your fathoms keep it wet.

    Vacation or one more step?

    Sail away inside today tomorrow is here!

    P.S. An extra 12K on top if you can find an exponential match when you sell.
    For the “children” of your choice of course. Perhaps “something” or a “cause” that digs the foundation for your weekly column until bedrock yields.

    P.S. when the lion aggregates the loon twirls below the surface with a sigh.

    1. SHG Post author

      If anybody is wondering, I haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about either. Not even a little clue.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          Any lawyer who knows what’s good for him will remain silent on the issue of whether he’s ever ingested sufficient quantities of psychotropic substances to render Barleycorn comprehensible.

      1. Osama bin Pimpin

        I have been busy on nonblogolitical matters. I felt obligated to respond on this matter as it is within my area of expertise.

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