As it appeared in the New York Post
By Priscilla DeGregory
Updated February 22, 2021 3:47 PM
An ex-dean of the Fashion Institute of Technology claims that she was made to be a scapegoat in a school scandal after a black model came forward with accusations that a school runway show was racist, new court papers show.
Ousted dean Dr. Mary Davis filed a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit Friday alleging that FIT President Joyce Brown threw her under the bus and defamed her days after The Post revealed that black model Amy Lefevre was allegedly pressured to wear oversized “monkey ears”, red lips and bushy eyebrows that were “clearly racist” — though Lefevre ultimately walked the runway without them.
On Feb. 21, 2020, Brown announced she was placing Davis and MFA Fashion Design Department chair Jonathan Farmer on leave while they investigated the incident.
Brown said in the same statement that “those in charge of and responsible for overseeing the show failed to recognize or anticipate the racist references and cultural insensitivity that were obvious to almost everybody else,” adding it was “inexcusable and irresponsible,” the court papers highlight.
Davis’ suit alleges that “Brown’s falsehoods clearly asserted and/or implied that Dr. Davis was a racist and lacked fitness for her profession.”
The statements were “especially believable and damaging” since Brown is black — and “someone with authority in the areas of racism,” the court filing claims.
But Davis claims she “had no advance knowledge of the accessories that were used” during the Feb. 7, 2020 show featuring FIT alumni designer Junkai Hunag, the court documents say.
Davis says she also didn’t know that Lefevre had raised any objections right before the show had begun, the suit says.
Davis and Brown — sitting feet apart from each other at the Pier59 Studios show during fashion week — both first saw the accessories as other models hit the runway sporting them and Brown “applauded them enthusiastically,” the court filing claims.
Afterwards, Brown and the school continued to praise the show and even made a promotional video about it — including the allegedly offensive accessories — lauding the school’s “values of ‘diversity and inclusion,’” the suit claims.
The school did an about-face on its stance of the show only after The Post’s exposé, the court papers claim.
“In response, to the stinging criticism, Dr. Brown invented a story that shifted attention from her own culpability onto Dr. Davis,” the suit charges.
Further, employees in the communications department had previewed the show and “said and did nothing to prevent [the accessories’] inclusion and display in the show,” the suit alleges.
Professor Farmer, who directed the show, and Richard Thornn, the creative director of British fashion production company NAMES LDN, who produced the show, had already publicly taken responsibility and apologized for their involvement in the debacle, the court papers say.
Still, the school fired Davis in November, delivering her a “death blow to her academic and professional career,” the court filing alleges.
“It is highly unlikely that Dr. Davis, who is 61 years old and now widely and publicly labeled as a racist, will ever secure another job in her profession,” the court documents allege.
Davis is suing for unspecified damages.
Davis’ lawyer, Marjorie Berman, told The Post, “My client believes she was definitely the scapegoat for the incident at FIT.”
“This defamation was unfounded, opportunistic and unjust,” Berman said. “This lawsuit will bring the full details of the allegations of FIT’s mismanagement and misconduct to light.”
A university spokesperson said: “FIT does not comment upon matters in litigation except to say that we look forward to presenting our case to the court and seeking the suit’s dismissal at the earliest possible juncture.”
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