WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC) filed an opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, representing six women in Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority who were forced to initiate a man into their chapter. In this case, Westenbroek v. Kappa Kappa Gamma, members of Wyoming’s Kappa chapter are seeking to hold Kappa to the sisterhood promised to them.

The complaint alleges that the male violated their privacy and dignity, including by watching them undress and inquiring about their genitalia. The women brought suit in the District of Wyoming, challenging that the individual’s admission violated the sorority’s bylaws, which provide that “a new member shall be a woman.” The district court dismissed the case, reasoning that Kappa could interpret “woman” to include a man. 

On appeal, Independent Women’s Law Center argues that the district court improperly disregarded that membership organizations, like Kappa, are bound by their bylaws. And, when courts review bylaws disputes, they enforce the meaning the membership intended. Kappa has used “woman” to limit membership since its founding in 1870. The founders understood that term to mean biological female and Kappa leadership has never asked the Kappa membership to change that definition. In other words, “woman” in Kappa’s bylaws means biological female, and courts are required to hold Kappa to its contract. 

The Kappa sisters bringing the lawsuit said, “For more than 150 years, women have sought the sorority experience to grow in leadership, friendship, and confidence without the constant presence of men. Kappa’s national leaders lived this amazing experience. But for more than a year and counting, we’ve been deprived of the sisterhood Kappa promised us. We hope the Tenth Circuit will hold Kappa to its word and give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Kappa women who never approved a massive change to Kappa’s membership criteria.”

“Kappa was created to uplift women and provide them with opportunities for growth and fulfillment outside of the co-ed college environment,” said Independent Women’s Law Center attorney appealing the case, May Mailman. “Its purpose clearly says that Kappa exists to ‘unite women, through membership, in a close bond of friendship.’ Women in Kappa’s leadership cannot disregard this purpose merely because they want to show their neighbors how virtuous they are. This is a simple case of failing to abide by the terms of a contract and squashing women’s rights in the process. It’s legally and morally unacceptable.” 

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