A D. C. Superior Court jury yesterday awarded $234,000 to a former Howard University official who told the jury he was illegally fired because he pointed our fraudulent fund-raising reporting and mismanagement in the program at the school.
Bunyan-Nathaniel Knight, who worked as assistant director of university development at Howard for 15 months, had filed a $7 million civil suit charging that the school breached his employment contract, damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress when he was fired.
Roger Estep, Howard's vice president for development and the principal defendant in the case, testified that Knight committed "gross insubordination" on April 27, 1977, when he did not immediately answer a phone call from Estep.
Knight, who was one of the university's chief fund raisers, testified that he was on a phone call soliciting a donation for the school when Estep called. Knight informed a secretary that he would return Estep's call later, he testified.
But an hour later, Knight testified, he was fired abruptly by Estep, who charged him with disobeying a direct order of his superior.
Knight, in testimony before Judge Norma Johnson, contended he was fired because he frequently criticized "incompetence, mismanagement and corruption: in the school's fund-raising department.
"We were forced to publish materials saying that President James E. Cheek was kicking off the annual fund-raising campaign with a check for $1,000," Knight testified. "All of the employes knew that Cheek had not actually donated the money."
Knight testified that when he checked the 1975 records of the Challenge Fund," an in-house fund-raising campaign aimed at employes, he found that although Cheek had been photographed handing what was purported to be a check for $1,000 to officials of the fund, no record of an actual contribution from Cheek could be found.
In addition, Knight contended that the school frequently did not take advantage of available fund-raising opportunities that he suggested.
Knight, who was represented in the trial by attorney John M. Clifford, testified that when he complained about the apparently nonexistent Cheek contribution, his superiors, including Estep, brushed the matter aside.
Howard's attorney, Richard Hopkins, argued that Knight was fired because he disobeyed his superiors and, at times, "wanted to be the boss in his office." Hopkins called Knight's charges of fraud and mismanagement in the school's fund-raising program "petty incidents, blown out of proportion."