Cornell SAE Sued For $25M Over Death of Brother

It always felt like the other shoe had yet to drop in the case of George Desdunes, the Cornell sophomore and SAE brother who was found dead in his fraternity house on Feb. 25. Four former SAE pledges were charged in May with first-degree hazing and first-degree “unlawfully dealing with a child” — which carry with them maximum penalties of one year in prison (no small punishment, to be certain). But still, given the magnitude of the circumstances, it felt like retribution hadn’t been fully doled out.

Not so much any more: Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andre, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the frat with a price tag of $25 million. She said, according to the Associated Press (by way of the Cornell Sun):

With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have.

In the initial weeks and months following Desdunes’ death, its circumstances remained shrouded in mystery. But the story we now know goes something like this:

George and another SAE brother had been whisked away on the night of Feb. 24, in what was called a “voluntary kidnapping.” (SAE had a history of such stunts.) His captors were a group of pledges, who administered “reverse-hazing” — wherein Desdunes would answer questions about the frat, drink for wrong answers, and perform calisthenics, according to the suit. The pledges later returned him to the SAE house, his wrists and ankles bound with zip ties and duct tape, and left him asleep on a couch, where he was later found. An autopsy revealed that his BAC was 0.409 at the time of his death.

The lawsuit deals another brutal (but not unwarranted) blow to SAE, who had already been suspended from operation for five years following a Cornell investigation into George’s death. “Local chapter officers and members” were also named as defendants in the suit, according to the AP, though their names have not yet surfaced.

Update: Here’s an ABC News video clip detailing the story. – C.B.

Update No.2: The Cornell Sun is now reporting that the lawsuit names 20 former SAE brothers and pledge members as defendants, in addition to the fraternity. – C.B.

  • ric

    Why aren’t they suing Cornell?

    • greekadvisor

      Cornell can’t be blamed for the fact that these men didn’t follow their policies.  They violated Cornell policies, and Cornell removed them from campus accordingly. 

  • D’13

    This is silly.  Maybe filing a suit against the Cornell SAE chapter is warranted, but going after brothers – who are nearly certainly devastated by what happened – is petty and niggardly.  The $25M sought is absurd in and of itself; there’s just no way that Cornell SAE (physical plant, endowment, this year’s dues) is worth that much.  So it reasonably follows that the intent of the plaintiff is to go after the livelihoods of the entire brotherhood for the balance.  Way to go, angry mom.  Wreck a few more kids’ lives, and see if that alleviates your suffering.  I don’t mean to say that everyone is innocent of any wrongdoing, but do you really think you can fill the emotional hole left by the death of your child with a pile of cash?

    I’m willing to bet that a lawyer approached her and took advantage of her misery.  If the criminal charges stick on any of the SAE brothers, civil suits against them will be a cakewalk.

    I hope that Cornell does the right thing, and at least lets the SAEs involved stay enrolled.  They’ve already been through hell, and it’s not like the university didn’t know that hazing goes on.

    • Cornell ’11

      “Nearly certainly devastated by what happened”? Yeah, that’s it. The majority of the SAE brotherhood resumed visibly partying and drinking a couple weeks later as if nothing had happened. On Slope Day, they wore pinnies that read “the TKE-over has begun” (in reference to TKE accepting the SAE pledges after Cornell withdrew SAE’s recognition) just to publicly show the Cornell community what unrepentant assholes they are. People like that don’t have the capacity for shame or remorse. The only tangible way to make them pay is by seeking (heavy) monetary damages.

      And you’re an idiot if you think the mother is attempting to fill an emotional void with cash or some bullshit like that. She is sincerely trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Lasting precedents really only get set through massive lawsuits or the threat of massive future lawsuits. If the INDIVIDUAL members of a fraternity organization know and understand that they can be sued for an action, then the internal policing that they will then enact to prevent that action from ever happening is significant relative to the bullshit lip-service they currently pay to colleges’ fraternity affairs offices.

      • Jack

        the only kids wearing those shirts were TKE members and former SAE pledges. SAE brothers had their own shirts saying SAE. 

  • greekadvisor

    I’m a Greek Advisor at a state university, and can say that the issue is being handled appropriately.  The university had policies in place that the chapter members violated.  They did the right thing in immediately removing the chapter from campus by enforcing those policies.  It is not the university’s fault that members did not follow those policies.  Personally, I don’t think the national organization can be held liable in most cases because they also have strict policies they really do work to enforce.  Unfortuanely 18-21 year olds make poor decisions, regardless of what laws or policies exist.  Those members should be the ones prosecuted.