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New Pennsylvania Hazing Law Requires Immediate Action

Client Alert

Authors: Michael E. Baughman and Kristin H. Jones

10/22/2018
New Pennsylvania Hazing Law Requires Immediate Action

On October 19, Pa. Governor Tom Wolf signed into law the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, named for the Penn State student who lost his life in a fraternity hazing incident in early 2017. The new law amends Pennsylvania’s existing Antihazing Law, increasing the penalties for individuals or organizations who engage in hazing and requiring additional reporting by colleges and universities. The Act becomes law on November 18, 2018, and colleges and universities must make an initial report on hazing incidents by January 15, 2019.

Like the old law, the new law applies to hazing that occurs at any public or private secondary school that provides instructions in grades 7 through 12 and to any college or university authorized to grant an associate or higher academic degree. “Hazing” is defined as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” coercing or forcing a minor or student to do any of the following for the purposes of either admission to, or continuing or enhancing membership with, an “organization” (broadly defined to include any group at the school consisting primarily of minors, students or alumni, including fraternities):

  • violate federal or state criminal law
  • consume any food, drink, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance that subjects the minor or student to a risk of emotional or physical harm
  • endure brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to the elements
  • endure brutality of a mental nature, including activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment
  • endure brutality of a sexual nature
  • endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the minor or student.

Hazing can occur on or off campus. The statute also includes a “safe harbor” that provides protection from criminal prosecution to individuals who make an immediate report of hazing to obtain medical attention for the victim.

The Act makes any form of hazing a summary offense and makes hazing a misdemeanor of the third degree if the conduct results in, or creates a reasonable likelihood of, bodily injury. The Act makes “aggravated hazing” a felony when the hazing results in serious bodily injury or death and (1) the actor acts with reckless indifference to the health or safety of the victim or (2) the actor causes, coerces or forces the victim to consume alcohol or drugs. The Act also subjects organizations in which hazing occurs to fines when the organization intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates hazing.

Of particular note for colleges and universities, the Act creates a new offense of “institutional hazing” for when a college or university “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promotes or facilitates” a hazing violation. An instance of institutional hazing may result in fines up to $5,000 for hazing and $15,000 for aggravated hazing.

The existing Pennsylvania antihazing law already required schools to have policies and procedures in place that prohibit, and provide for punishment of, hazing and to post those policies on the school’s website. The new law, however, also requires colleges and universities to ensure that their policies and procedures regarding hazing are provided to every organization at the school. Secondary schools are similarly required to ensure that all students are informed of their hazing policies and procedures. The law provides that penalties issued by a school for hazing can include fines, withholding diplomas for failure to pay fines, and probation, suspension and expulsion. Under the prior law, a school could provide for the penalty of rescinding an organization’s recognition when the organization authorized hazing in “blatant disregard” of the institution’s rules. The new law removes the “blatant disregard” language and simply provides rescission of recognition as another possible punishment.

The Act creates a new recordkeeping and reporting requirement for colleges and universities (but not for secondary schools). Colleges and universities must maintain data for all hazing violations that are “reported” to the institution, and, for each such report, the institution must include the following: (1) the name of the subject of the report; (2) the date the subject was charged with a violation of the institution’s antihazing policy or federal or state laws related to hazing; (3) a general description of the violation, any investigation and findings by the institution and, if applicable, penalties; and (4) the date on which the matter was resolved.

On January 15, 2019, colleges and universities will be required to make an initial report of hazing violations reported to the institution in the five consecutive years prior to the 2018-2019 academic year “to the extent that the institution has retained information concerning the violations.” This initial report must be posted to the publicly accessible portion of the school’s website, and, while the report must disclose the name of the organization involved, it must not contain personal identifying information of any individual. Going forward, colleges and universities will be required to update their reports twice a year, on January 1 and August 1 of each year. Records must be kept for five years.

One area of uncertainty is what constitutes a “report” to the institution of a hazing violation for purposes of the recordkeeping and reporting requirements. The term “report” is not defined in the Act. While one could argue that the statute requires disclosure of all good faith reports made to the institution (in a way similar to how the Clery Act works), the fact that the report must include the “date when the subject was charged with a violation” suggests that only cases that actually result in a charge being filed need to be disclosed. To be conservative, and absent additional guidance, colleges and universities should consider disclosing all good faith reports that are received by their campus safety or student disciplinary offices.

Given that the Act takes effect in just 30 days and the first report is due January 15, schools should immediately review their antihazing policies to ensure that their definitions are consistent with the new law. Once any amendments to school policies are made, schools should promptly distribute those policies to all organizations on their campuses and consider other public awareness events and training to make sure the community is aware of the policies. Schools should carefully document all such efforts. And given that the January 15, 2019 report will require five years of historical data, schools should begin pulling that material together now, in preparation for their first report.

The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.

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