The trail between bestselling romance novelist Nicholas Sparks and Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster at the Epiphany School, a faith-based prep school founded by the author in 2006, has reached its dramatic conclusion.
This week, a jury ruled in favor of Sparks, who was accused of creating a hostile work environment by discriminating against and saying disparaging things about LGBTQ students, Black kids, and other minority groups.
Just to recap: Earlier this summer, leaked emails showed that in 2013, Sparks ordered Benjamin to ban an LGBTQ student group and then threatened at least two teachers with termination for defending the students’ right to meet up after school. When Benjamin told Sparks that banning the group was discriminatory, the author replied: “Not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination.”
In another email, Sparks suggested banning all forms of student protest after two lesbian students planned to come out during chapel services. When Benjamin refused to do so, Sparks accused him of secretly authorizing an “official School LGBT club” which “some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.”
In another set of emails, which are just as offensive but have gotten far less attention, Sparks made racist comments about African Americans, claiming that the lack of any Black students at his school had less to do with racist school policies (or, in his words, “vestiges of Jim Crow”) and more to do with African-Americans being “too poor and can’t do the academic work.”
At trial, Sparks testified that Benjamin called anyone who disagreed with him bigots and racists behind their backs. He also accused the former headmaster of “weaponizing” his private emails.
He also then testified that he is “an unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights and would never want to discourage any young person or adult from embracing who they are.”
According to court transcripts, when asked about his remarks about Black kids being too poor to attend his school, Sparks replied, “The school costs money. I mean, it’s certainly not free,” before talking about the scholarships it offers to “disadvantages [sic] dollars kids” from “very poor families.”
He very artfully managed to avoid talking his other remarks about Black students, the ones where he claimed they were “unable to do the academic work.”
In a statement to the media after the jury’s ruling yesterday, Sparks said:
I am grateful for the jury’s verdict in favor of myself, the Epiphany School and the Nicholas Sparks Foundation. The verdict speaks volumes, and completely rejects the campaign waged by Mr. Benjamin and his lawyers in an attempt to discredit Epiphany and me. As my testimony made clear, I have always been personally supportive of gay rights, gay marriage, and gay adoption. Further, Epiphany is and remains a place where students and faculty of any race, belief, religion, background, or orientation should feel welcome. My commitment to these values, as well as Epiphany’s commitment to these values, have been and remain constant. I look forward to getting back to writing full time, and I thank my family, friends, and readers for their support.