Student sues college in job loss, claims bias against fraternities


Saying his firing from a college job weeks after he pledged a campus fraternity is evidence Western Maryland College is trying to destroy the Greek system, Howard A. Mackie Jr. is suing the Westminster college for $500,000.

In a suit filed in Carroll Circuit Court last week, Mr. Mackie, a junior at the private college, says Western Maryland's actions in dealing with the campus' fraternities and sororities has been "willful, wanton and malicious" during the 12-year tenure of college President Robert Chambers.

Mr. Mackie was employed as a resident assistant, a job in which his room, board and a portion of his tuition was paid by the college. As a resident assistant, Mr. Mackie served as a counselor and supervisor of fellow dormitory residents.

In March, Mr. Mackie, who is from Boca Raton, Fla., joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, though Mark A. Holfelder, the college's residence life coordinator, told him that doing so might jeopardize his resident assistant position.

On March 10, Mr. Holfelder fired Mr. Mackie, saying he had "made it clear that your continued pledging of Phi Delta Theta would be considered your choice, effectively resigning your position as resident assistant."

Robert L. Kline III, Mr. Mackie's lawyer and a 1981 graduate of Western Maryland College, said what happened to his client was clearly wrong and even in conflict with the college's own policies.

"Mr. Mackie is the model student Western Maryland should want to show off," the lawyer -- a former Phi Delta Theta president -- said last week. "And what does the college do? He feels wronged."

According to an excerpt from the college's policies on fraternities supplied in the lawsuit, "Resident Assistants can become members of Greek organizations. However, they will be assigned to a building where their organization is not housed, in order to prevent peer pressure and conflict of interest. In some cases, RA assignments may have to change due to Greek membership."

Mr. Kline said, "We tried to discuss this with them, but they wouldn't talk. Mr. Mackie went through all of the administrative procedures, all of the hearings. This is a last resort."

None of Western Maryland's 300 fraternity and sorority members live in traditional chapter houses on or off campus; they are assigned floors in the residence halls. The college has about 1,200 students.

A spokeswoman for the college declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The two-count, breach-of-contract suit supplies little detail on Dr. Chambers' alleged antipathy toward Western Maryland's fraternity and sorority system. It says that the college's actions in Mr. Mackie's case were "motivated by strong hatred and/or spite of the Greek organizations on campus and was performed in order to intentionally and systematically remove Greek life from campus."

Mr. Mackie declined last week to comment on the lawsuit.

No trial date has been set.

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