Former FIT Grad School Dean Doubles Down On Defamation Claims

The Fashion Institute of Technology’s former graduate school dean is pressing on with her lawsuit against the school and its president in their ongoing dispute over allegedly racist accessory designs that had appeared at an FIT-sponsored show last year. 

In a filing in New York State Court, Mary Davis argued that a letter posted on the FIT website by the college’s President Joyce Brown had defamed her by blaming her for the fallout from the fashion show. The show had featured accessories by FIT graduate Junkai Huang, which had included designs of what Davis said had “exaggerated certain body features, including the ears, lips and hands.” 

After reports that Amy Lefevre, a Black model in the show, declined to wear the accessories on the grounds that they evoked racist imagery, the school began to respond and ultimately pinned the blame on Davis, according to Davis’ filing this month. The show took place in February 2020, and the school posted the letter later that month after criticisms of the show went public. 

“The letter defamed Dr. Davis both per se and by implication, falsely stating she had failed to apprehend the racist nature of the presentation, characterizing her as inexcusably irresponsible (and thus, by implication, professionally incompetent), and laying at her feet the blame for events in which she played no role and over which she had no control,” Davis argued in her filing, which opposes a motion that FIT and Brown had filed in May to dismiss her suit. 

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In their motion, FIT and Brown argued the letter they had posted had contained only factual statements about the school conducting an internal investigation, and placing Davis and another school official on leave. Their motion indicated also that Lefevre and students had flagged their misgivings to those involved in staging the show. 

“The letter only contains undisputed, accurate statements of non-defamatory facts and protected opinions,” Brown and FIT wrote in their May filing supporting their motion to dismiss Davis’ suit. 

“A review reveals that the remainder of the letter contains: an apology to the FIT community for the incident; asks the FIT community to withhold judgments until the independent investigation was completed; opines that it appeared that those in charge of the show failed to anticipate the pain caused by the accessories, and, commits to a full investigation of the incident, what led up to the show and what followed,” they wrote. 

But Davis argued that Brown had also seen the accessories on the day of the show and had at first lauded the event, changing her own response only after the apparent public backlash, according to Davis, who was terminated from the school in November.   

“Mary Davis deserves significant compensation for the extreme damage to her career and reputation from the defamatory comments as she set forth in her complaint,” Davis’ attorney Marjorie Berman, founding member and partner at Krantz & Berman LLP, said in a statement. 

“FIT’s policy is to not comment on matters that are currently the subject of litigation,” an FIT representative said in a statement. 

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