The Howard University School of Law is facing a $2 million lawsuit for racial discrimination from a white student alleging the school created a “hostile education environment.”
The plaintiff, Michael Newman began attending Howard during the fall semester of 2020 and remained there for just two years until he was expelled in September 2022. He is now seeking $2 million in monetary damages for “pain, suffering, emotional anguish, and damage to his reputation.”
“Faculty and administrators fomented racial animosity toward Newman by endorsing some classmates’ views that his comments on matters of public concern or advocacy for political and social changes were insensitive, offensive, or racist, and by endorsing the view that classmates’ derogatory comments regarding Caucasians and derogatory epithets were acceptable,” the lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, stated.
The lawsuit also accuses Howard’s faculty and staff of retaliation, disparate treatment, defamation, and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Newman claims that he faced “depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts” as a result of “public ostracism, vilification and humiliation,” according to the lawsuit. Furthermore, the suit accuses Global Head of Diversity Recruiting, Reggie McGahee, of telling Newman he had become the most hated student he’d seen during his tenure at the university.
The plaintiff also claimed that he raised concerns about his alleged mistreatment to school administrators, but the law school’s dean allegedly denied that Caucasian students at Howard Law, and Newman in particular, faced racial discrimination to any degree.
Frank Tramble, vice president and chief communications officer for Howard told Fox News that while he could not comment “substantively” due to pending litigation, the university “is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this lawsuit as the claims provide a one-sided and self-serving narrative of the events leading to the end of the student’s enrollment at the university.”
Newman was expelled from Howard on September 19, 2022, after a series of incidents where he was accused of “racially harassing” his classmates.
In one instance, the lawsuit states Howard students reportedly discovered a tweet from Newman’s personal Twitter account that showed a former Black slave whose back was severely scarred from whippings. Newman’s caption to the picture read: “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken.”
According to the lawsuit, Newman claimed the tweet wasn’t intended to be offensive but instead was geared toward commentators who “attempt to explain away videos of police brutality by claiming the victim must have committed wrongdoing before the video started.”
Additional problems arose when the university shifted to remote learning at the start of the pandemic, when students began communicating on online forums and GroupMe chats, Newman claimed in court papers. The lawsuit said the plaintiff found himself the target of classmates’ animosity after he posted a comment on GroupMe in Oct. 2020.
After a symposium featuring an African-American speaker in the run-up to the 2020 election, Newman posted the following on a professor’s forum page:
“Where I part with the Black community is where they believe government solves problems, I only see it causing problems,” Newman wrote on the chat, according to the lawsuit. He asked for further dialogue on “whether: (1) Black voters didn’t question turning to government for solutions, and (2) reliably voting for the same party every election disincentivized both parties from responding to the needs of the Black communities.”
The former Howard student later said that he felt “utterly disenfranchised” at the school, also comparing himself to a Black student at a primarily White university.
Newman alleged that he faced backlash although he repeatedly explained that he was seeking to learn about the views and experiences of Black Americans. He also claimed that many students started to refer to him as “mayo king” (a perceived reference to his race) and “white panther.”
According to the lawsuit, Newman tried to remedy the situation by sending out a four-part letter to explain his views, but was seen as a “manifesto,” to his classmates, with one student accusing him of “manipulating [classmates’] emotions … as a social experiment.”
Newman said he sent an email on January 26, 2021, to Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, and cc’d law school dean, Danielle R. Holley, “requesting assistance from Howard administration to address racial discrimination,” as well as “reassurances” that White and Black students are treated equally.
Controversies led to a digital town hall meeting with 300 students to discuss Newman’s allegedly racially harassing classmates. During the town hall, Holley allegedly characterized Newman’s letters as “disturbing in every sense of the word,” according to the suit.
Holley and Newman wound up filing simultaneous complaints, with Holley accusing Newman of “continual harassment of member [sic] of the Howard Law community, and disturbance of the learning environment at the School of Law.” At the same time, Newman claimed Holley had perpetuated “threats,” “discrimination” and a “hostile academic environment.”
In a statement sent to BET.com, Tramble said, “Mr. Newman came to Howard having had a career outside of law and was granted a University scholarship. Mr. Newman then displayed a pattern of antagonizing actions against other students in the law school. “This includes Mr. Newman using the untimely death of a fellow law student to further his views on COVID-19 and the vaccines,” Tramble continued. “After following the University’s disciplinary policies, Mr. Newman was expelled for disruptive and harassing conduct.”