UPDATE, with full Sparks statement Nicholas Sparks is turning the page on his long-running legal fight with the former headmaster of the private Christian school he founded in North Carolina. A jury decided in The Notebook author’s favor Wednesday, saying he doesn’t owe the man a thing after a five-year court battle.
Saul Hillel Benjamin had sued Sparks in 2014, claiming that the author fired him without cause the year before and then slandered him to school officials, a job recruiter and others. The ex-head of the Epiphany School of Global Studies, a private Christian academy that Sparks founded in his hometown of New Bern, had contended that the writer fired him without a reason then told people that Benjamin had a mental illness.
He had held the job less than half a year and claimed that Sparks bowed to pressure from some parents who objected to the headmaster’s new focus on diversity and gay students.
“The verdict speaks volumes, and completely rejects the campaign waged by Mr. Benjamin and his lawyers in an attempt to discredit Epiphany and me,” Sparks said in a statement. Read it below, along with a statement from his attorneys.
According to the AP, the federal jury found that Benjamin resigned his job days before Sparks and the school’s other trustees would discuss firing the educator for causes that included lying about his work experience and job performance. For example, Sparks’ attorneys said, Benjamin lied that the school’s finances were slightly above water when they were deeply in the red. Sparks testified at trial that the educator was referring to people who disagreed with as bigots and racists behind their backs.
Sparks has penned more than 20 novels, several of which have made it to the big screen including Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and The Notebook, a musical adaptation of which is headed to Broadway. Producers of that show had expressed concern after a Daily Beast article in June painted Sparks as homophobic and racist. The romance novelist affirmed his support for the LGBTQ community later that week, and the producers and creative team said publicly soon after that they were “encouraged” by Sparks’ statement.
Here is Sparks’ statement:
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. – Nicholas Sparks
Here is a statement from the writer’s legal team about today’s jury decision:
“We are very pleased with today’s verdict in favor of our client, Nicholas Sparks, his Foundation, and the Epiphany School of Global Studies. We were able to present in the courtroom the full, complete and accurate story of Epiphany’s unfortunate experience with Mr. Benjamin as head of school. The jury’s verdict confirms what we have been saying since this case first began almost six years ago: Nicholas and the School’s Trustees always acted in the best interests of the School, its children, their families, and the faculty and staff. As we told the jury this morning, this case was about holding Mr. Benjamin accountable for his own performance and actions during his brief tenure as head of school. Mr. Benjamin’s counsel sought to distract the jury and the public from that core issue with a. selective, inflammatory narrative. The jury’s verdict has exposed that version of events as simply wrong. Nicholas is grateful to his family, friends, and readers for their support throughout the trial and this entire case. On behalf of Nicholas and the Epiphany School we appreciate the time and dedication of the jury, the Court, and our Epiphany School colleagues.”