University officials state the lawsuit "lacks merit."
Delta Zeta, which had been accused of asking only attractive, popular students to remain active members, filed the claim in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis alleging DePauw had broken promises and contractual agreements, defamed the sorority and interfered with its business relationships.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, a public apology to the sorority, its return to DePauw's Greek system and a retraction of certain statements about the sorority. It also asks that DePauw acknowledge "that Delta Zeta did not make any decision based on appearance and race."
The lawsuit comes two and a half weeks after DePauw President Robert Bottoms announced the university would sever ties with DZ's national organization, following a "membership review" which resulted in 23 women being asked to move out of the DePauw chapter house.
"From the beginning, DePauw University has acted to protect its students," says Ken Owen, director of media relations. "We are disappointed in Delta Zeta's decision to initiate legal action. We believe that this lawsuit completely lacks merit and have every confidence that the courts will determine that the university acted lawfully and in the best interests of its students."
Delta Zeta attorney William Nolan of Columbus, Ohio, said the sorority hoped it could reach an out-of-court settlement with DePauw, a 2,200-student private liberal arts school.
"We're hopeful for a negotiated resolution," Nolan said.
The sorority's members had a reputation for academics, not conventional beauty or partying, and the chapter was widely known among students as the "dog house." The chapter started the school year with just 35 women in its house, compared with 100 members or more at other DePauw sororities, and removed 23 from active membership after a restructuring last fall.
DePauw spokesman Ken Owen said the university disputed many of the allegations in the 21-page complaint filed Wednesday.
Eight of the 23 women evicted from the Delta Zeta house have hired an attorney to handle grievances over their removal from active status.
Attorney Mark Dinsmore of Indianapolis said he was trying to resolve the dispute with the sorority and that no formal legal action had been taken.
Delta Zeta, based in Oxford, Ohio, said in a statement that its efforts to rejuvenate a struggling chapter had been misinterpreted "as being purely about the image of our individual members on that campus."
"DePauw's leadership has engaged in an intentional campaign to defame Delta Zeta and inflicted significant harm on many of the student members of the sorority by deliberately exposing them to national ridicule," Delta Zeta's statement said.
University President Robert G. Bottoms on March 12 evicted Delta Zeta from the school's Greek system, starting this fall, because it was unhappy with the sorority's policies and actions and with postings on its website that disputed the controversy that followed the evictions.
Delta Zeta has maintained the evictions were based on the members' lack of commitment to recruiting pledges.
The lawsuit blames DePauw for the restructuring that led to the evictions. Delta Zeta acknowledged the chapter's membership had been declining and that it was not meeting recruiting goals. The organization said the university rejected Delta Zeta's proposal to close the chapter temporarily and return at a future date.
Some of the members who were evicted were not committed to the chapter's success, the complaint said.
"During a formal recruitment event at DePauw during the fall semester, one member put on a mullet wig and ran through the ... chapter house screaming Delta Zeta chants while potential recruits visited for a house tour. This activity saddened and embarrassed the minority group of Delta members who continued to work hard at recruitment efforts on DePauw's campus," the complaint said.