Nicholas Sparks Denies Allegations of Racism Made by Former Headmaster

Posted on October 3, 2014

Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks is being sued by Saul Hillel Benjamin, the former headmaster of The Epiphany School in New Bern, North Carolina, the non-denominational, Christian school Sparks and his wife founded in 2006.

Benjamin was hired by Sparks to oversee the school, which accepts students from pre-K through twelfth grade. According to its website the school is Christian based, but is open to students and faculty of all faiths and those "with no particular faith." The school has nondenominational services. It accepts students of all races and religions. Tolerance and knowledge about other cultures are touted as goals of the school.

So what happened? It all started when Sparks hired Benjamin to run the school. Benjamin signed four year contracts with the Epiphany school and with Sparks' charitable foundation. He was paid $256,000 a year plus bonus and benefits. Benjamin was fired and he is suing. The lawsuit contains a number of terrible and sometimes bizarre allegations.

The Guardian reports on the lawsuit. Apparently, Benjamin ran afoul of Sparks and the school's board of directors when he tried to recruit more black students and teachers. Benjamin says Sparks told him that "diversity should not be measured by percentages of minority students enrolled or minority faculty employed." Benjamin also alleges that Sparks made the racist remark that, "Black students are too poor and can't do the academic work." He also alleges that Sparks was angry that Benjamin would go to NAACP meetings to meet black parents and recruit students, and told him to meet with black parents somewhere less public.

Benjamin alleges that Sparks is also a homophobe. He says that the trustees of the school demanded that he stop helping students who claimed to be bullied over their sexual orientation. Benjamin says one trustee accused him of "promoting a homosexual culture and agenda." Benjamin says he wanted to teach LGBT issues in coursework, but was told to focus on core educational subjects.

Now here's where it gets really bizarre. Benjamin said the board of trustees harassed him about his Jewish background and his Quaker faith. Benjamin claims there was a memorable all-school meeting in which Sparks forced him to stand in front of the school and justify his Jewish heritage and explain why he is a Quaker. He says Quakers aren't allowed to discuss their faith and he was humiliated. Benjamin claims the parents screamed insults at him while the board of directors applauded and he was not allowed to respond to the complaints from parents. There are literally hundreds of witnesses who can quickly confirm or deny the dramatic account.

Benjamin says that Sparks locked him in schoolroom for hours one day to be able to yell at him in private. Benjamin said he was not allowed to go to the bathroom and that he felt physically threatened. He says he was not allowed to leave or call his attorney and that Sparks was so physically intimidating that he and his wife were reduced to tears. This was nine months after he was hired. Benjamin said that Sparks defamed him by telling Benjamin's wife that that Sparks believed that Benjamin was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a major theme in his bestselling novel, The Notebook. Benjamin wants millions for his mental anguish.

Sparks vigorously denies all the allegations. His entertainment attorney Scott Schwimer said in a statement, "As a gay, Jewish man who has represented Nick for almost 20 years I find these allegations completely ludicrous and offensive."

Sparks addressed the issue on his Facebook page. He denies all the allegations of the former headmaster saying, "I emphatically reject his claims, but beyond that I'm deeply saddened by their nature, given the fact that I founded Epiphany with the express purpose of creating a truly global and multicultural institution, accessible to individuals of all races, religions, and orientations. This is a painful experience for me, but I want to thank all of you for your support ... your faith and loyalty mean the world to me."