ANN ARBOR, MI — The national chapter of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity is suing the University of Michigan chapter, claiming that admitting a woman and having a member who identifies as non-binary has caused harm to its trademark, a lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Sigma Phi Society on Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges that the conduct of members at UM’s chapter of Sigma Phi has caused “irreparable harm to the valuable Trademarks, including infringement and dilution thereof, and to National Sigma Phi’s image, identity, and goodwill.”
The national chapter also filed a preliminary injunction to stop the local chapter from using the name.
“I am troubled that an internal dispute (where a) chapter (is) deciding to have more inclusion by broadening their membership has been met by a federal court trademark lawsuit,” said David Nacht, the Ann Arbor-based attorney representing the UM chapter.
Messages left with the Dinsmore & Shoh law firm representing Sigma Phi Society were not immediately returned, but in response to a defense brief, RJ Cronkhite, an attorney with the firm, wrote that the defendants have failed to create a valid argument regarding the trademark infringement let alone rebut Sigma Phi’s preliminary injunction request.
“Instead of focusing on trademark law, defendants’ response principally focuses on falsely accusing National Sigma Phi of violating various inapplicable laws,” Cronkhite’s response says. “National Sigma Phi finds Defendants’ accusations in this regard inflammatory, unfounded, and legally meritless, and will contest them vigorously in the due course of these proceedings.”
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Denise Page Hood heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday, but said she won’t issue a written opinion about the injunction request until next week.
Nacht provided background about the case in his response to the lawsuit. He wrote that a Sigma Phi member who identified as a man while rushing and pledging the fraternity began to identify as a woman. Around the same time, another member began to identify as gender non-binary, according to his response.
Members at the fraternity decided they would invite women to rush, and they initiated five women that semester, the response states.
Michigan Sigma Phi began circulating a proposal to amend the National Sigma Phi’s constitution and by-laws so that each chapter could dictate its own membership policy regarding gender. Michigan Sigma Phi’s alumni board told members that the best way to get the policy noticed was to publish the proposal in Sigma Phi’s quarterly newsletter, the Flame.
The publication of the summer 2017 edition of the Flame was delayed until August, and the proposal was not noticed within the 60 days required before a vote.
Shortly after, Michigan Sigma Phi elected its first female student president for the 2017-18 school year, according to court records.
In October 2019, members tried to put forth a proposal at the fraternity’s General Convention, but the proposal was blocked, Nacht wrote in the response. Female members of Michigan Sigma Phi were not allowed to participate or even