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Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon Says Alpha Kappa Alpha Lawsuit Is ‘About Broken Promises’



The lawsuit filed by two Howard University students against Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is heating up.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 28 in federal court, alleges the nation’s oldest sorority violated a legacy clause and engaged in acts of hazing.

Lauren Cofield and Laurin Comptin are both senior students at the prestigious HBCU and have expressed interest in the sorority since they were both freshman.

But, according to Cofield, freshmen are not allowed to pledge at the university. Additionally, the chapter was suspended two years during the sophomore and junior years.

What makes matters a bit more intricate is the students are “legacies,” meaning their mothers are members of the sorority. Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said the sorority has a “legacy clause in their constitution,” which places a higher emphasis on legacy students.

The clause Gordon is referring to is as follows:

Under current law, a voluntary member organization’s constitution and bylaws create an enforceable contract between its members and the organization. Daley v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 26 A.3d 723, 729 (D.C. 2011) (upholding right of members of sorority standing to bring action against sorority to redress requirements of its constitution and by-laws.); Meshel v. Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, 869 A.2d 343, 361 (D.C.2005) (internal citations omitted) (“[I]t is well established that the formal bylaws of an organization are to be construed as a contractual agreement between the organization and its members since the continuing relationship between the organization and its members manifests an implicit agreement by all parties concerned to abide by the bylaws.”), In re APA Assessment Fee Litigation, 862 F. Supp.2d 1, 7 (D. D.C. 2012). A third party may benefit from any contract in which they are the intended beneficiary. Fort Lincoln Civic A--’n v. Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., 944 A.2d 1055, 1064 (D.C.2008) (“Third-party beneficiary status applies when the contracting parties had an express or implied intention to benefit directly” the party urged to be a third-party beneficiary.) Our litigation was framed against the backdrop of these legal principals.

Lauren’s mother, Lessie Cofield, happens to be an initiate of the university’s Alpha chapter.

During an with Fox DC, Lessie Cofield, a 30-year member of AKA, called the rejection of her daughter’s entry into her beloved sorority “personal” given the fact she has done her service, “supported fund-raisers,” and “attended chapter meetings.”

“This is where most of my friends are,” said Cofield, who is an Alpha chapter initiate. “Most of my friends either pledged me or I pledge them. My husband also graduated from Howard. We have a big circle of friends. My friends have known my daughter her whole life and watched her grow up to become a remarkable young woman. They are actually saddened by the fact she is not on the line.”

Watch Laura Cofield’s Fox Interview Below



Cofield and Comptin were both rejected due to a 50-initiate cap being placed on the intake. The chapter placed a higher priority on sophomores and juniors.

According to lawsuit, Gordon, who bills himself as the “Warrior Lawyer,” the lawsuit is “broken promises, breach of contract, and respecting the rights of AKA members.”

“It has more to do with these three things than my clients’ daughters who sought to participate in the undergraduate AKA Membership Intake Process at Howard University,” Gordon wrote. “The daughters are merely collateral damage, –victims caught in the cross fire of a battle between an organization and its betrayed membership.”

Read below to view lawsuit in its entirety:

Compton, et al., v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, et al., 1:13-cv-00262, is about broken promises, breach of contract, and respecting the rights of AKA members. It has more to do with these three things than my clients’ daughters who sought to participate in the undergraduate AKA Membership Intake Process at Howard University. The daughters are merely collateral damage, –victims caught in the cross fire of a battle between an organization and its betrayed membership.

Under current law, a voluntary member organization’s constitution and bylaws create an enforceable contract between its members and the organization. Daley v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 26 A.3d 723, 729 (D.C. 2011) (upholding right of members of sorority standing to bring action against sorority to redress requirements of its constitution and by-laws.); Meshel v. Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, 869 A.2d 343, 361 (D.C.2005) (internal citations omitted) (“[I]t is well established that the formal bylaws of an organization are to be construed as a contractual agreement between the organization and its members since the continuing relationship between the organization and its members manifests an implicit agreement by all parties concerned to abide by the bylaws.”), In re APA Assessment Fee Litigation, 862 F. Supp.2d 1, 7 (D. D.C. 2012). A third party may benefit from any contract in which they are the intended beneficiary. Fort Lincoln Civic A--’n v. Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., 944 A.2d 1055, 1064 (D.C.2008) (“Third-party beneficiary status applies when the contracting parties had an express or implied intention to benefit directly” the party urged to be a third-party beneficiary.) Our litigation was framed against the backdrop of these legal principals.

In this case, I represent two mothers, who are AKAs, and two daughters, who are Legacy candidates. My AKA clients are seeking to enforce their rights under the AKA Legacy Clause. The daughters are merely the personification of the great harm done by the rights violation. AKA is the only “Divine 9” organization that has a Legacy Clause expressly written into its constitution thereby creating an enforceable right. The right of a member to bestow Legacy status upon her daughter should never be abridged, abrogated or encumbered. It is not a right freely given. It must be earned by the member. Inactive membership status will not confer the right. In order to earn the right a member must have been financially active for at least 24 months prior to its invocation. In order for a member’s daughter to benefit from Legacy status, she must meet the same minimum qualifications for AKA membership as a non-legacy candidate.

Both mothers and daughters far exceeded the minimum requirements to enjoy the right to the benefits conferred by the Legacy clause. Both mothers have been active and financial for many years and one holds life membership status. Concomitantly, both daughters: (1) have a 3.60 and 3.57 GPA respectively, (2) completed 100s of hrs of community service, (3) obtained extensive professional work experience, and (4) maintained impeccable moral and ethical character. Both daughters followed all of the procedures and guidelines for completing thoroughly and turning in their paper work in a timely manner. Both daughters are graduating seniors who chose to participate in the Membership Intake Process because AKA was suspended during their previous [sophomore, junior] years of eligibility due to hazing. As Freshman they were prohibited from pledging pursuant to Code at Howard University.

According to AKA rules, the my clients’ daughters had the right to priority status in the AKA Membership Intake Process at Howard University as a matter of law. Priority status means that Legacies are selected first and are not subjected to chapter vote. If Intake spaces remain after the selection of qualified Legacy candidates, then everyone else may be selected. This may seem harsh, unfair, and not right from the outside looking in, but these are AKA rules. My clients did not write the rules they simply followed them and relied upon AKA’s compliance. AKA broke the rules by selecting non-Legacy senior applicants over Legacy senior applicants, who included my clients, and refused to provide a cure by offering additional spaces. They had up to fifteen remaining slots to remedy the breach and they refused to correct the problem. Their actions were unacceptable to the mothers who have been dedicated members of AKA for 30+ years and have complied with all of the terms and conditions to enjoy all of the benefits of their membership.

The mothers felt betrayed, and still only gently attempted to persuade AKA to uphold its end of the bargain. After multiple emails and telephone calls to resolve the matter nothing yielded any success. My clients chose to exercise their rights as citizens to access the court in order to more persuasively register their very serious concerns with AKA and here we are. We hope at the end of the day, if nothing else, AKA will better respect the rights of its most active, financial, and loyal members.

Although the complaint contains allegations of hazing, hazing is not the controlling theme of this litigation because my clients were never hazed. In fact, they resisted hazing and unofficial pledging, and reported conduct that they deemed questionable to the appropriate persons. So they too have played by the rules.

The lawsuit contained Human Rights violations which we have voluntarily withdrawn to streamline our complaint and perhaps reduce some of the spectacle surrounding the litigation. No matter how people felt about the merits of the Human Rights violations or any other claims raised, the retaliation [and additional negligence] claims soon to appear in an amended complaint are very real. In the near future, the court will be determining whether AKA’s suspension of my clients’ membership and threats of expulsion based upon their filing the instant lawsuit in part to redress unlawful discrimination constitutes witness tampering and/or witness intimidation in violation of federal law. We feel it does and will request that the court take action as we’ll be seeking the full panoply of relief. See, generally, Shepard v. American Broadcasting Companies, 62 F.3d 1469, 1475 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (trial courts have inherent power sanctions available to them, including “fines, awards of attorneys’ fees and expenses, contempt citations, disqualifications or suspensions of counsel, and drawing adverse evidentiary inferences or precluding the admission of evidence.”) Access to courts to aggrieve disputes is another fundamental right that my clients refuse to surrender simply to remain members of a voluntary organization.

While we understand the unrest and dismay by those who were heavily influenced by inaccurate media accounts, it’s not too often that one has the courage to raise challenges like these against a mega-international organization such as AKA. However, some people will freely accept and comfortably allow their rights to be trammeled, while others feel powerless to do anything about it. My clients simply are not either of those people. Instead, they have made a conscious decision to pursue justice even though it may appear unpopular, they are self-less enough to understand that others will benefit from their struggles. It was because of their level of commitment (right or wrong), that I chose to accept the case.

It’s unfortunate that some people have chosen to direct their angst and in some instances anger toward my clients when it would be better served addressing the Sorority. To those I say this: As members of AKA, my clients are entitled to all of the rights and privileges the sorority affords its active dues paying members. The Legacy clause is simply one of those rights that is very important and personal to my clients and their respective families; as members they’ve earned it, and as committed Sorors, they refuse to allow it to be voluntarily surrendered.

Respectfully,

J. Wyndal Gordon, The Warrior Lawyer

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