Nicholas Sparks has been cleared in a defamation lawsuit from the former headmaster of a private school The Notebook author co-founded.
Saul Hillel Benjamin claimed he was unjustly fired as headmaster at Epiphany School of Global Studies in North Carolina in 2013. He launched the lawsuit in 2014 and claimed he was slandered by the author.
A jury on Wednesday (21st August) absolved Sparks of all counts following a six-day federal trial.
Sparks said in a statement: “I am grateful for the jury’s verdict in favour 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.”
Jurors decided Benjamin resigned days before Sparks and the school's trustees would discuss terminating his contract over his job performance and work experience, according to the Associated Press. Sparks told the court his belief in Benjamin plummeted when he learned an unofficial LGBTQ student club had been set up, which the headmaster said did not exist.
Earlier this year Sparks apologised to the LGBTQ community following the release of an email exchange from 2013 and claims he fostered an anti-LGBTQ environment at the Epiphany School.
Benjamin's attorney Lawrence M Pearson told local media ABC 11 that they will look into appealing the decision.
Sparks, is published by Hachette imprint Little, Brown in the UK, and has sold 1.57 million books for £8.6m. He has written nearly two dozen novels, with many turned into films. He and his then-wife Cathy founded the Epiphany School in 2006. Hachette declined to comment.