Ex-Detroit Country Day athlete sues school, alleging racial discrimination

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Detroit Country Day School

The family of a former two-sport student at Detroit Country Day School is suing the esteemed private institution, alleging racial discrimination and harassment against their son.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court with the Eastern District of Michigan, also claims the student's treatment by administrators at Detroit Country Day — treatment the family says ultimately led to his withdrawal from school, rather than face expulsion — cost him athletic opportunities at the collegiate level.

LaNard Graham Jr. was a senior at Country Day, based in Beverly Hills, Mich., when, according to the lawsuit, he was accused by school administrators of smoking marijuana in a parked car on campus. Despite a friend later acknowledging the marijuana was his, and despite Graham passing two drug tests, Graham was told he would be expelled from school, according to the suit.

A day later, a school administrator told Graham's family the decision would be reconsidered, but ultimately told the family the family could withdraw him from school or he would be expelled.

According to the lawsuit, "The Grahams withdrew LaNard from school 'under protest.'"

Graham, now 19, who played basketball and football, finished high school at Novi High, and attended Northwood University in Midland, before he transferred to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Lawyers for Graham and his parents, Wenona and LaNard Sr., say the case is not about marijuana, but about his treatment — specifically compared to how non-black students were treated in similar circumstances. Graham is black.

"We have a pretty long list of very similar cases of non-African-American students that were not suspended, or at least non expelled, doing very close to the same thing," said Joshua Moore, of Detroit Legal Services, the co-counsel for Graham. Detroit Country Day officials "could not explain to me (a reason for) the disparaging treatment. I gave them every opportunity.

"At the end of the day, this case is not about marijuana. It's about him being treated differently, and why was he treated differently. They can't give us an answer."

A Detroit Country Day spokesperson said the school "does not comment on pending litigation."

A message left with Detroit Country Day attorney Scott Mandel, of Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC in Lansing, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Lawyers from Detroit Country Day haven't yet responded in court to the 18-page lawsuit.

Graham and his family, including two of Graham's younger brothers who also eventually withdrew from Detroit Country Day, are seeking monetary damages and changes to school policy.

The case stems from an incident Nov. 7, 2016, on Detroit Country Day's campus. According to the lawsuit, Graham and two friends were sitting in a parked car around 4:40 p.m. Tim Bearden, Detroit Country Day's upper school director (or principal), said he noticed smoke coming from the car.

Before approaching the car, according to the lawsuit, Bearden called the Beverly Hills Police Department. At 4:49 p.m., according to the lawsuit, Wenona Graham, LaNard's mother, received a  call from Bearden, who told her he found her son "getting high," despite LaNard's repeated denials — and before drug tests had been administered.

According to the lawsuit, that same day, Graham was given a home drug test and also taken to a nearby hospital for a urine test. Both tests came back negative for marijuana.

The next day, Nov. 8, the Grahams allege, they received a phone call from Bearden, who said LaNard would be expelled. The day after that, Nov. 9, the Grahams had a meeting with the school's headmaster, Glen Shilling, who agreed to reconsider the decision and re-examine the case.

Shilling returned with an ultimatum, according to the lawsuit: Withdraw or be expelled. Graham withdrew.

After he left the school, the lawsuit alleges, the harassment continued. The family alleges head football coach Dan MacLean told a prospective college recruiter that Graham had been expelled, when he had not; and that basketball coach Mark Bray berated and harassed a younger brother of LaNard, and made "rude jokes" about LaNard; among other charges.

"Ultimately, the hostile environment, harassment and discrimination that the Plaintiff and his family endured at the hands of DCDS forced the Grahams to withdraw their other two sons from DCDS," the lawsuit states. Lawyers for the family aren't identifying the younger brothers, one of whom is a minor.

The lawsuit filed lists Shilling, Bearden, Bray and Detroit Country Day as defendants. Shilling and Bearden didn't respond to request for comment from The News, and Bray referred inquiries to school administration.

LaNard Graham, 5-foot-11 and 177 pounds, was a defensive back for the football team — at one point, he was being recruited by multiple Mid-American Conference schools — and he also played basketball. In February 2017, he was listed as a football recruit for Northwood, but he never did play.

Moore said he's been working on this case and investigating multiple allegations for several months, and first contacted the school in November to attempt a resolution outside of court. Two weeks ago, the school responded that it didn't have an answer, and the lawsuit was filed, he said.

Moore said he expects to introduce in court multiple instances at Detroit Country Day that involved non-African-American students who he says were treated differently than Graham. Among them in his research, which he shared with The Detroit News: In 2015-16, a student was caught vaping on campus (detention; police weren't called); in 2015-16, a bag of marijuana was found in the hallway (police weren't called); in 2015-16, multiple girls soccer players were caught drinking (some were suspended; police weren't called); in fall of 2016, a black student was assaulted in a campus bathroom (no students were expelled; police weren't called); in fall of 2016, a group of students were caught drinking on a "party bus" (minor penalties were issued; police weren't called); in fall of 2017, a student was caught stealing (police weren't called); in fall of 2018, a student was caught vaping (two-day suspension was issued; police weren't called).

"And I haven't even put down all the instances," Moore said.

Graham's withdrawal from school, according to the lawsuit, led to "embarrassment, emotional trauma and distress, humiliation, anxiety, depression, loss of opportunities (educational and athletic), and other losses."

Tuition for high school at Detroit Country Day is $32,200, plus expenses for uniform, books and technology.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984