Dorsey E. Lane, general counsel of Howard University for 24 years and the target of a controversial sexual discrimination suit earlier this year, retired from the university July 1, Howard President James E. Cheek announced yesterday.

Lane, 65, graduated magna cum laude in 1949 from Howard's law school, ranking number one in his class, and had served as a law professor for more than 25 years as well as holding the position of Howard's chief legal officer.

Lane's resignation comes in the wake of a number of discrimination suits brought against the university by faculty members and other employes, who have charged Howard with discriminating in various forms against whites and Africans, women and men.

Juries have returned four damage verdicts against Howard in the past two years, with awards totaling $671,000. Two of those verdicts are under appeal. Since 1981, Howard reached out-of-court settlements with eight other employes totaling more than $250,000.

The discrimination controversy involving Lane centered on allegations by Michael A. Harris, a $29,000-a-year staff adviser in Lane's office, that Lane favored female employes in pay and promotions over him though he was better qualified. Harris, who took his complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was fired Jan. 31.

The suit received extensive coverage in the student newspaper, The Hilltop. The paper's editor, Janice McKnight, was later dismissed for allegedly submitting false information on a university application form. The dismissal sparked a round of student protests, and McKnight was subsequently reinstated.

A university spokesman said as far as he knew there was no connection between the discrimination suits and Lane's resignation. Lane himself could not be reached for comment, nor could Cheek.

A university news release said Cheek accepted the general counsel's resignation "with deep regret."

"An acting general counsel has not been named, pending a study of restructuring the legal arm of the university," the news release said.