“It is a very, very sad day for our university when one of its brightest sons has to do this,” said James L. Walker Jr., an attorney who did not file the suit but is acting as a spokesman for Hankerson. “It breaks my heart to see Howard handle Mr. Hankerson in this manner. This could be anybody’s son or daughter.”
A Howard representative said in a statement that the university does not comment on pending litigation and was not making any comments about the protected information of any Howard student.
The court filing is connected to a scandal involving allegedly misappropriated funds at the historically black university. In their latest report on the alleged financial misdeeds, Howard officials Monday said six former employees misappropriated $369,000 in financial aid from 2011 to 2016, revealing for the first time the scope of the scandal that helped ignite more than a week of student protests. The university has not publicly identified the employees.
In late March, an anonymous item was posted to online blogging platform Medium alleging an “office-wide scandal” involving officials in the university’s financial aid department. That Medium post, which was later removed, mentioned Hankerson by name and suggested he had been the recipient of misappropriated money.
After the Medium post was published, Hankerson was publicly humiliated and became the target of defamatory statements, the court filing alleges.
“Mr. Hankerson also endured reputational and potential physical harm as students suddenly targeted Mr. Hankerson as the person who was the cause of the lack of university funding to assist students in financial need,” the court documents state.
Hankerson, who was a student employee in the financial aid office, took the fall for the scandal when Howard failed to clear his name and has been “used as the scapegoat for Defendant Howard’s wrongdoings,” the suit alleges.
Hankerson lost a job and has had to see a therapist, the court documents state. He claims his personal and professional reputation have been damaged.
Hankerson has said he only accepted financial aid that was offered to him and did not award himself any funding.