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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Lowers Award to Frat Over Secret Taping

(CN) - The Iowa Supreme Court reduced the amount of damages awarded to a University of Iowa fraternity over a secretly recorded audiotape used to bust the fraternity for hazing and alcohol violations.

The tape documented an alleged hazing incident and was supplied by a student whose membership to the Iowa Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity had been revoked due to poor grades. The 2.5-hour recording purportedly caught active members forcing new pledges to stand in a military-style lineup and address their superiors as "hell masters."

The student gave the tape to Phillip Jones, the vice president for student services and dean of students, as evidence to back up his previous claims of hazing and alcohol violations.

University officials found the tape to be compelling evidence of hazing, and a hearing officer temporarily revoked recognition of the fraternity's charter as a sanction for the alcohol violation.

The fraternity and the Phi Delta Theta House Association filed suit, claiming the university had used an illegally recorded tape to force its admission to the hazing charge.

The district court sided with the fraternity and awarded it $98,300 - $100 for every day the tape was used to keep the doors of the fraternity house shut - plus more than $24,000 in attorney fees.

The high court agreed that the university had improperly used the tape, but disagreed with the damage awards.

Justice Wiggins reversed the $5,000 punitive damage award against Jones and the attorney fee award against all defendants. The high court also reduced the liquidated damages to $73,200, saying the lower court had miscalculated the number of days the fraternity's doors were closed.

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