Nicholas Sparks Is Accused Of Racist, Homophobic, And Anti-Semitic Behavior In Lawsuit
Five years after a former employee first lobbied accusations of racism and homophobia against writer Nicholas Sparks, emails that appears to support the plaintiff's claims has surfaced. The emails, obtained by The Daily Beast, are part of an ongoing court case between Sparks and the former headmaster of a North Carolina school he co-founded.
For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a primer. Sparks, the author of The Notebook and 19 other novels, co-founded the Epiphany School of Global Studies, a private prep school in New Bern, North Carolina, in 2006. According to The Daily Beast, Saul Hillel Benjamin — a Quaker of Jewish ancestry — became the Epiphany School's headmaster in February 2013, and was given instructions to "make it amazing, global and open-hearted." By October of the 2014, however, Benjamin had filed a lawsuit against Sparks and the Board, seeking punitive damages "discrimination, breach of contract, emotional distress, and defamation."
The emails obtained by The Daily Beast come from evidence collected in the discovery phase of the case, which is set to go to trial on Aug. 14. Sparks wrote in one email that Epiphany was "a kind school, where everyone is kind; it is in fact, the KINDEST school I've ever visited." Allegations from the case show otherwise, however. Here are four of the most shocking allegations from Benjamin's complaint and the emails:
1. Benjamin claims that Sparks said "black students are too poor and can’t do the academic work."
Although Benjamin took the instruction to make Epiphany "amazing, global, and open-hearted" to mean making the school more inclusive, he claims that his attempts to racially diversify the school's student body — which was less than one-half of 1 percent black in August 2013 — were met with hostility. In one of the emails obtained by The Daily Beast , Sparks allegedly wrote that "we've spent way, way too much time... talking about 'tolerance, diversity, non-discrimination, and LGBT' in these first twelve weeks." In another email, Sparks allegedly said, "there's a lot of talk about diversity and how we're awful because we don't have it," going on to complain about Benjamin's support of an LGBTQIA+ club at the school, and his planned field trip to Washington, D.C. in observance of the March on Washington's 50th anniversary.
Allegations from the complaint show that diversity may be exactly what the Epiphany School needs, however. In addition to the school board's alleged claim that the March on Washington field trip was "provocative," Benjamin's court filings stated that Sparks told him he had brought "disrepute to Epiphany" for publicly associating with the president of the local NAACP chapter, who delivered the keynote address at an event the headmaster attended.
In an incident described in the complaint, Benjamin also claims that Sparks allegedly told him that "black students are too poor and can’t do the academic work" asked of Epiphany students. In an email published by The Daily Beast, Sparks wrote that students of color did not attend the school because of financial and cultural reasons, which he said were not related to systemic racism or U.S. history: "Regarding diversity, I've now told you half a dozen times that our lack of diversity has NOTHING to do with the school, or anyone at the school. It's not because of what we as a school, has or hasn't done. It has nothing to do with racism, or vestiges of Jim Crow. It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture [sic]."
2. LGBTQIA+ students were threatened with a "Homo-caust," which Benjamins claims Sparks allegedly supported.
The 2014 complaint contained a potentially damning paragraph regarding the safety of the LGBTQIA+ community at the New Bern school. According to Benjamin's complaint, "Sparks endorsed and lent support to a group of students — which included the children of key Epiphany administrators and other influential parents — who viciously bullied and sought to enact a 'Homo-caust' against a group of gay students." After the formation of a club for LGBTQIA+ students, which Sparks allegedly referred to as "the Gay Club," two bisexual instructors came forward with support for the students and were threatened with termination, according to Benjamin's court filing. The lawsuit claimed that Benjamin was ordered not to talk about issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community in his capacity as headmaster.
In an email obtained by The Daily Beast, Sparks allegedly told Benjamin, "you chose to rock this boat early and hard... with what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.... As for the 'Club,' there obviously can't be one now." The author wrote in another email that "[t]here will be no club in the future" of Epiphany, before going on to discuss the school's non-discrimination policy. "[P]lease remember that sexual orientation was NOT in there originally," Sparks wrote, "and that the only reason it was added was that YOU [Benjamin] insisted it be specifically added... Frankly, no one but you wanted it in there... Please stop implying it was something the [Board of Trustees] wanted to do; it's the law. And, I will be checking on how that relates to faith-based schools.... [W]e might be able to change it back to what it was before."
3. Benjamin claims parents were provided with an open forum to bully him over his Jewish heritage and Quaker faith.
Benjamin claims in his complaint that the school allegedly demanded he deliver a public statement of faith, regarding both his Quakerism and his Jewish ancestry, to "hundreds of students, parents, faculty and staff," after he referred to "the Rabbi Jesus" while reading from ancient Greek and Hebrew Christian texts. Quakers, according to Benjamin, "view faith as a private matter and characteristically refrain from involuntary public declarations of faith."
After making his statement, Benjamin claims he met with outrage from parents, who allegedly told him that he did not belong at Epiphany, and that he was "unfit to be around young people." According to the complaint, the school's Board of Trustees allegedly encouraged the parents to continue while preventing Benjamin from replying to their abuse.
4. Benjamin alleges that Sparks physically assaulted him.
Benjamin alleges that, on the day after he was compelled to testify to his beliefs, Sparks called him in for a meeting, where he was terminated. The complaint further alleges that, "Sparks and others physically intimidated, threatened and assaulted Mr. Benjamin while keeping him trapped in a room for hours without, inter alia, even access to a bathroom (eventually bringing Mr. Benjamin and his wife to tears)."
Benjamin's lawsuit claims that Sparks "falsely and cynically purport[ed] to 'diagnose' [him] with Alzheimer's" in conversation with his wife. One of the emails obtained by The Daily Beast appears to back up this claim. The website wrote on Thursday that one email contained the following statement allegedly by Sparks: "I do believe that [Benjamin] is suffering from a mental illness of some sort... What that is — Alzheimer’s, a variance of bi-polar, something else — I have no idea."