Howard University is being sued by a white student who was expelled from its law school. The student accuses the establishment of a hostile environment and racial discrimination.
Michael Ray Newman, the plaintiff, was awarded a $26,250 annual scholarship to attend the Howard University School of Law in the fall of 2020 but was expelled in September. Newman’s lawyer filed a lawsuit on his behalf on Feb. 16 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, claiming he suffered “emotional, mental and economic harm,” and asking for over $2 million in compensation.
The lawsuit stems from events that began in 2020 when Newman participated in a public debate and discussion on a professor’s forum page. After Newman expressed his disagreement with the Black community in a previous GroupMe chat, saying, “they believe government solves problems,” whereas he saw government only as “causing problems,” he decided to move the discussion to the forum, as evidenced by court documents.
The university “declines to comment on pending litigation substantively, but the University is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this lawsuit,” according to Frank Tramble, a vice president and chief communications officer for Howard. He also asserted that the allegations “provide a one-sided and self-serving narrative of the events leading to the end of the student’s enrollment” at Howard.
According to Tramble, Newman engaged in “a pattern of antagonizing actions against other students” at the law school. He gives the death of a law student as an example of how Newman used it to “further his views on COVID-19 and the vaccines.” He was then expelled for “disruptive and harassing conduct,” per the university’s rules of conduct.
The lawsuit asserts that Newman also expressed his feelings of being “utterly disenfranchised” in a Zoom chat box while comparing himself to a Black student attending a school with a majority-white student body. According to the lawsuit, many of Newman’s fellow students notified school officials after both incidents and asked for his expulsion; some even voiced concerns about the controversies he started, saying they disrupted their studies.
According to the NY Post, a classmate in January 2021 found and retweeted a July 2020 tweet from Newman’s private Twitter account, which presented the infamous photo of the freed slave Gordon, also known as “Whipped Peter,” posted with Newman’s tweet, “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken!” the suit alleges. This was after Newman had officially and verbally apologized to his classmates.
Law school dean Danielle Holley and Reggie McGahee, Howard’s global head of diversity recruiting, met with Newman after student backlash. It is alleged in the lawsuit that Holley accused Newman of racial harassment and suggested he transfer out of the school. One student called Newman’s remarks “racist,” while another said he was “terrorizing the students.” More than 300 people attended Holley’s town hall Jan. 31, 2021, to discuss the controversies surrounding Newman.
Newman, during the town hall, tried to clarify that he had tweeted Gordon “to voice support for racial minorities who suffered police violence.” In October 2021, Newman was allowed to join a new GroupMe chat, but he was later banned entirely after a Black student accused him of “passively-aggressively attempting to insult yet another Black person in this GroupMe” due to his comments on Howard’s lack of diversity and inclusion.
When Newman felt his exclusion “was motivated by racial animus,” he decided to file a formal complaint of discrimination with the school, as noted by NBC. An attorney who was hired to look into the situation reportedly concluded that the claim of racial discrimination “could not be substantiated” and closed the case.
Following an investigation into a complaint made by Holley, the university expelled Newman in September. The suit alleges that Newman suffered emotional distress, reputational harm, and allegedly lost employment opportunities and benefits as a result.
The lawsuit also asserted that Newman was a member of the racial minority as a white student at Howard University. The first hearing is set for April 21.