Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Sorority, University of Wyoming Trans Student

Judge Alan B. Johnson said his court would not define ‘woman’ with this case

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by six University of Wyoming Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members regarding the admission of transgender student Artemis Langford. (Courtesy: Facebook/Artemis Langford)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A federal judge on Friday dismissed six former and current Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority sisters’ lawsuit against the national organization and a transgender member.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson wrote in a 41-page ruling that he would not invade KKG’s freedom of expressive association by voiding Artemis Langford’s membership into the sorority.

“The University of Wyoming chapter voted to admit — and, more broadly, a sorority of hundreds of thousands approved — Langford,” Johnson wrote. “With its inquiry beginning and ending there, the Court will not define ‘woman’ today.”

Langford, a transgender woman, was admitted to UW’s KKG chapter last fall. She was the first trans member in the chapter’s history. She did not live in the campus’ sorority house.

Jaylyn Westenbroek, Hannah Holtmeier, Allison Coghan, Grace Choate, Madeline Ramar and Megan Kosar filed a lawsuit against the national KKG sorority, its national council president Mary Pat Rooney and Langford in the spring. The lawsuit alleged that by allowing Langford to join the sorority, national chapter officials violated KKG’s own bylaws, which state the organization is “single-gender.”

The plaintiffs accused Langford of making the sorority members uncomfortable and alleged she became “visibly aroused” when spending time in the sorority house.

The women asked for Langford’s membership to be voided and for KKG officials to repay each of them at least $9,100 to cover their room, board and sorority dues. Johnson denied all of this with his dismissal.

Initially, seven plaintiffs were listed anonymously in the lawsuit, but Johnson ruled in April that the women would have to publicly reveal their names in order for the case to move forward.

Johnson pointed to various statements published by KKG over the last several years that reflect changing gender standards, noting that while its official bylaws do not include “women and individuals who identify as women” in them, other documents do.

“Plaintiffs equate KKG’s Fraternity Council to a corporation’s board of directors,” Johnson wrote. “This court cannot step in every time a member, or even multiple members, cries foul when a bylaw is disparately interpreted; if it did, KKG and its fraternity council would spend their days responding to derivative suits from their thousands of members and 210,000 alumnae.”

The women also failed to prove that KKG breached its contract with them by admitting a trans member, Johnson ruled.

“KKG undertook no contractual obligations to reject transgender women,” the judge wrote.

In July, attorneys for KKG and Rooney filed a request for dismissal, while Langford separately submitted a dismissal request.

“The entire endeavor amounts to little more than another plea for this Court to build them the social circle they want so that they can avoid the fact that their fellow sorority sisters voted to admit a transgender woman,” KKG’s attorneys wrote at the time.

Langford’s attorney argued that a sorority member spread a “vicious” rumor about her becoming aroused during a time in the sorority house and submitted evidence showing that the claim was false.

“Plaintiffs portray Ms. Langford as a student attending a co-ed university with the opportunity to live in a co-ed dormitory who nonetheless devises an elaborate scheme to join a woman’s organization just to be near them in common areas,” Jackson-based attorney Rachel Berkness wrote on behalf of Langford. “Then they publicly joke at Ms. Langford’s expense: ‘If I knew it was that easy to get into a sorority house, I would have put on a skirt a long time ago.’”

The dismissal was ruled as “without prejudice,” meaning that the women could refile a lawsuit, should they choose to do so.

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