Hazing Laws: Is Pennsylvania’s Strict Law the New Trend?

Hazing Laws: Is Pennsylvania’s Strict Law the New Trend?
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr's Higher Education Highlights Summer 2019
William T. Eveland, Andrew Bollinger

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have anti-hazing laws. Those that do not (yet) have anti-hazing laws on the books include Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii.
One of the strictest criminal laws for hazing in the country was just passed in Pennsylvania.  In response to the tragic death of Timothy Piazza, Pennsylvania adopted legislation to prevent and criminalize hazing at colleges, universities, and secondary schools.  The new law, known as the Timothy Piazza Anti-hazing Law, 18 Pa. C.S. § 2801, et seq. (the “law”), implements a variety of new requirements for higher education institutions and imposes strict criminal sanctions. 

Since Pennsylvania’s law passed, eight states, including Texas, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, California, and Louisiana, have proposed stricter hazing laws.  Many of these proposals are comparable to Pennsylvania’s law.  Therefore, given the possibility that Pennsylvania’s strict stance may be indicative of the new trend, below, we answer some of the questions and requirements about the new PA law.

1.  What is the Timothy Piazza Anti-hazing Law, 18 Pa. C.S. § 2801, et seq.?

The anti-hazing law expands the scope of activities that constitute hazing and imposes criminal liability on individuals, colleges, universities, secondary schools, and organizations, such as sports teams, fraternities, and sororities, on both a local and national level. Under the law, hazing includes causing, coercing, or forcing a minor or student to do any of the following for the purpose of initiation in or affiliation with an organization: (i) violate federal or state criminal law; (ii) consume any food, liquid, alcohol, drug, or other substance that subjects the individual to a risk of emotional or physical harm; (iii) endure brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics, or exposure to the elements; (iv) 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; (v) endure brutality of a sexual nature; (vi) endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the person. (1)

One of the components of the new law is the direct imposition of criminal liability on institutions and organizations. Institution is defined as “an institution located within [Pennsylvania] authorized to grant an associate or higher academic degree.”(2) Organization is defined as any of the following: (1) a fraternity, sorority, association, corporation, order, society, corps, club or service, social or similar group, whose members are primarily minors, students, or alumni of the organization, an institution or secondary school; or (2) a national or international organization with which a fraternity or sorority or other organization is affiliated. (3)  Under the law, institutions and organizations can be held criminally liable if they “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly promote” hazing or aggravated hazing. (4)   Fines can range up to $5,000 for each hazing offense and $15,000 for each aggravated hazing offense, and may additionally include any other relief as a court deems “equitable.” (5)

2.  What does the new law require?

The law requires the immediate adoption of anti-hazing policies by higher education institutions and imposes bi-annual reporting obligations on them.  Each institution must maintain a report of “all violations of the institution’s anti-hazing policy or Federal or State laws related to hazing that are reported to the institution.”  The contents of the report must include: (1) the name of the subject of the report; (2) the date when the subject was charged with a violation of the institution’s anti-hazing policy or federal or state laws related to hazing; (3) a general description of the violation, investigation, and findings; and (4) the date on which the matter was resolved. (6)

Each institution must adopt a written policy prohibiting hazing and, pursuant to that policy, must adopt rules prohibiting students or “other persons associated with an organization” from engaging in hazing.  Each institution must also provide a program for the enforcement of its anti-hazing policy and must adopt appropriate penalties for violations of the policy, which may include: fines, withholding diplomas and transcripts, withdrawal of formal recognition, probation, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion.  The initial report was due on January 15, 2019 and required information from the previous five years. Going forward, reports will be due bi-annually on January 1 and August 1. (7)

3.  Does the law leave any unanswered questions?

Yes.  For instance, how does the new law apply to persons “associated with an organization” if those persons are not students or employees? Further, can an institution be sued in civil court for not following the statute? The law does not address the imposition of civil liability.

Additionally, the new law states that institutions must report “all violations that are reported,” but what exactly does this mean? Is the reporting requirement limited to violations that have been “admitted” or “adjudicated,” or does it broadly include “allegations?” And what does it mean to say that a matter has been “resolved?”

Further, the report must provide the name of the “subject of the report,” but how does an institution include student information without violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act’s (FERPA) prohibition against disclosing “personally identifiable information?”

4.  Can we expect additional legislation in the future?

Yes.  On the heels of Pennsylvania’s new anti-hazing law, many states have taken (or are taking) similar action, including California (AB 1155), Florida (SB 1080; HB 727), Indiana (HB 1526), Louisiana (HB 443), New Jersey (S 3039), Ohio (SB 329), South Carolina (H. 3056), and Texas (SB 38).  Other states are expected to follow suit.

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(1) 18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2802.
(2) 18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2801.
(3) Id.
(4) 18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2804-2805.
(5) Id.
(6) 18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2809.
(7) 18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2808.