IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A house near a small Iowa university that's devoted to transcendental meditation has been falsely advertising itself as a Delta Zeta sorority chapter, duping tenants into believing they are pledging to the group, the national group said Tuesday.
Delta Zeta filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Des Moines against Frederick and Oksana Shaddock, owners of the rental home near Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield that for years called itself the "Delta Zeta House." The lawsuit also names the CI Corporation, which is Shaddock's business and owns the Internet domain names DeltaZetaHouse.com and DeltaZetaHouse.org.
Shaddock said Tuesday the lawsuit was a ridiculous waste of money and he never intended to mislead anyone. But within hours, the two sites were taken down and replaced by Chinese language websites. Shaddock said he canceled his ownership of the domain names and was prepared to make additional changes to resolve the matter.
"We don't want to offend anybody," he said.
The national sorority had sent a warning letter in July, which prompted the Shaddocks to remove a "Delta Zeta" sign from the house and change the house's name to "Delta Nu Zeta."
"Given the particularly heinous nature of your infringement, which involves luring young women to live at your house with the belief that they are going to be part of a well-respected, widely known national sorority, I am positive that any court or jury would be more than willing to award significant damages to Delta Zeta," the sorority's attorney, Brian J. Downey, wrote in the letter to the couple.
The lawsuit says that even after the Shaddocks changed the name, online references to "Delta Zeta" and its symbols remained prevalent. The suit claims the Shaddocks warned that if Delta Zeta did not pay $1,000 for the domain names, they would be put up for auction and "likely purchased by someone in China who would put up a distasteful site." Shaddock denied making that statement.
The sites had featured Delta Zeta's rose and green colors, the group's official crest and symbol and photos of "sisters" wearing Delta Zeta apparel. Those interested in "pledging" were directed to another website to fill out a lease application, the lawsuit claims.
The Oxford, Ohio-based sorority, which has 160 chapters, including in Iowa City and Ames, learned about the house earlier this year after someone stumbled on the websites, Downey said.
The sorority had a chapter in Fairfield until the 1970s, when the southern Iowa town was home to Parsons College. Followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the spiritual adviser, later bought the campus and now operate Maharishi University of Management, which is built around the practice of transcendental meditation and attracts many foreign students.
Shaddock, a Washington D.C. resident, said he attended graduate school there and he and his wife started marketing the "Delta Zeta House" in 2006. He said the campus had a lack of Greek life, and naming the house Delta Zeta was a nod to the sorority's history in Fairfield.
A tenant applied for recognition from the sorority in 2007 but never heard back, Shaddock said. In any event, students have chosen to live there because of its proximity to campus and not its name, he said.
The lawsuit alleges trademark infringement, false designation, unfair competition and false advertising. It seeks $200,000 for alleged cyberpiracy violations and unspecified damages, including profits the defendants have made from the Delta Zeta name.
"It's interesting that we gave them the opportunity to change the name and they chose not to take it," Downey said. "They are clearly trading off of Delta Zeta and obviously Delta Zeta had to act to protect against that."