Court: Harvard can be sued for distress over slave photos

A judge said the university failed to contact a descendant when it used an image on a book cover featured it in conference materials.
By: | June 24, 2022

A Connecticut woman who says she’s descended from slaves who are portrayed in widely published, historical photos owned by Harvard University can sue the school for emotional distress, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court partly vacated a lower court ruling that dismissed a complaint from Tamara Lanier over photos she says depict her enslaved ancestors. The images are considered some of the earliest that show enslaved people in the U.S.

The court concluded the Norwich resident and her family can plausibly make a case for suffering “negligent and indeed reckless infliction of emotional distress” from Harvard and remanded that part of their claim to the state Superior Court.

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