A former Coastal Carolina professor sued the school Monday, claiming university administrators retaliated against him for complaining about transparency and academic freedom at the university.
According to a prepared statement, Dr. Dan Turner claims he was suspended without pay beginning in Oct. 2016. The former English professor alleges his contract was terminated more than a year later after being “falsely accused” of assaulting a college dean.
Turner claims in the lawsuit the school violated his right to due process, free speech, public policy and breach of contract. He also alleges other claims, including a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act, malicious prosecution and defamation.
In addition to the university in general, the lawsuit also includes Coastal Carolina administrators and faculty members. The defendants include Coastal Carolina University provost and executive vice president J. Ralph Byington, dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and vice president of Academic outreach Daniel J. Ennis and English professor Kate Faber Oestreich.
According to the lawsuit, Turner particularly clashed with Ennis due to his “insistence on transparency, academic freedom and shared faculty governance” as compared to “Ennis’ penchant for nepotism and control.”
Turner also claims Ennis began behaving negatively toward him prior to his arrival at the school in 2010.
“Defendant Ennis first attempted to humiliate (Turner) during the research presentation of his on-campus interview,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendant Ennis next opposed and attempted to obstruct the hiring of (Turner’s) wife as an English faculty member” at Coastal Carolina University.
The lawsuit also claims Ennis ridiculed Turner’s work in addition to behaving bizarrely toward him, “at one time accosting (Turner)” while he was on crutches.
While seeking clarification on an issue regarding reimbursement for professional traveling expenses, Turner claims in the lawsuit he was cut off and Ennis “began to leave briskly without fully responding” to him.
“(Turner) next made a comment about a financial issue, followed (Ennis) out of the meeting and patted (Ennis), who had his back turned, on the back with an open hand to get his attention, hoping that (Ennis) would address (Turner’s) concerns.
“(Ennis) then stated to (Turner), ‘Did you just hit me?’”
According to the prepared statement, the confrontation was regarding Ennis’ supervision of an administrative employee accused of embezzling over $50,000 on a university credit card. “Turner claims the dean then concocted a false allegation that Turner had assaulted him following the exchange,” the statement said.
Shortly after the confrontation, Coastal Carolina police officers arrived as Turner’s office to question him on allegations of assault. He was not arrested, nor was he asked to leave campus at the time, the lawsuit states.
While discussing events of the day with a fellow faculty member by telephone at his Georgetown County home, Turner claims he was served with a letter stating he was suspended without pay by Byington due to “undescribed reported behavior.”
Turner said he believes prior to a Jan. 2017 meeting with Byington, the school administrator’s decision had already been made.
“(Byington) made it apparent at that meeting that his mind was made up that (Turner) should be terminated because he had ‘assaulted and battered’ (Ennis), that nothing (Turner) said would change that, and that (Turner’s) only options were to resign or be fired,” the lawsuit states. “(Byington) also stated that other university officials, including the university president, were involved in the decision to terminate (Turner), contravening the process outlined in the faculty manual.”
After multiple meetings with school administration, Turner claims he won a hearing before the school’s “Promotion and Tenure Committee unanimously, only to have the University Board and President” reverse the decision.”
Turner alleges, “Oestreich lied to the grievance committee stating that she had seen (Turner) commit assault and battery against (Ennis).”
The lawsuit states, “It became apparent at the grievance that (Turner) had been defamed by employees of (Coastal Carolina University), such that witnesses called by the university, who admitted to not seeing any physical contact between (Turner and Ennis) legitimately believed (Turner) had physically struck (Ennis) and therefore was unfit to be a professor.”
As a result, Turner claims Coastal Carolina University is responsible for damages related to lost wages, diminished earning capacity, lost benefits, lost companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional distress among other things. He is also seeking to recoup attorney fees.
“(Turner) requests that the jury award all damages he seeks on the above claims including punitive damages against the individual defendants where appropriate,” the lawsuit states. “(Turner) further requests the court grant him all other equitable relief it deems just and necessary including reinstatement.”
Coastal Carolina officials did not respond to requests for comment.