Coastal Carolina officials claim a lawsuit filed by a former professor fails to provide “a complete and accurate testimony” of the circumstances leading to his dismissal.
Dr. Dan Turner, formerly a tenured professor at the university, filed suit against Coastal Carolina alleging his contract was terminated more than a year after being “falsely accused” of assaulting a college dean.
He claims the lawsuit violated his right to due process, free speech, public policy and breach of contract. Turner also alleges the school was in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act, malicious prosecution and defamation.
In addition to the university in general, the lawsuit includes 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 as defendants.
“The university has recently been sued by a former professor over his dismissal,” said a prepared statement by Coastal Carolina University spokesperson Martha Hunn. “With respect to tenured professors, the university maintains a thorough process of checks and balances for the institution and for all of its professors.
“The process resulted in the termination of this professor. The lawsuit weaves a slanted representation of the events that transpired, and clearly represents only one perspective.”
Turner is seeking to recoup damages related to lost wages, diminished earning capacity, lost benefits, lost companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional distress among other things, along with attorney fees.
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.”
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 by Turner’s legal team, the confrontation was regarding Ennis’ supervision of an administrative employee accused of embezzling over $50,000 on a university credit card.
In reference to Byington, Turner believes the school administrator had already made a decision regarding his case prior to a Jan. 2017 meeting.
“(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.
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.”
“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.”
Coastal Carolina officials believe, however, the school acted justly in dismissing Turner, a professor at the school since 2010.
“While a complete response cannot be provided at this time regarding this personnel matter, the university has great confidence in its processes and in the actions taken, and is prepared to present its case in court, where complete and accurate testimony of what happened can be provided,” Hunn said in a prepared statement.