The Yale Chapter of Zeta Psi caused a stir on campus when a photo of its pledges standing in front of the Yale Women’s Center holding up a sign that read, “We Love Yale Sluts,” surfaced on the Internet. Although the fraternity quickly apologized for its display, the Yale Women’s Center announced that it intended to sue.
An article in the Yale Daily News does a good job of highlighting why such a suit, without further allegations, is guaranteed to fail. This one-time incident does not come close to the legal definition of sexual harassment, which requires that the alleged conduct be “severe and pervasive.” It is also not specific enough for a defamation suit, which requires an identifiable individual as the target of the statement, as well as a factual claim rather than a vague expression of opinion.
Yale Daily News quotes Susan Estrich, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, who offers some excellent advice for these types of situations:
“There’s no law I’m familiar with that says you can’t stand out front with stupid signs,” she said. “They just engaged in speech that people found offensive.”
She suggested another course of action she says would be more consistent with the First Amendment: more speech.
“Maybe somebody should go over to the fraternity house and put up signs that say ‘We Love Yale Fools,’” she said. “I hope the women of Yale are smart enough and strong enough and clever enough to give as good as they get and realize that free speech is a value and not get mad but get even.”