Former Coast RTA CEO Rollins files suit against Coast agency

Ousted Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins filed a 24-page lawsuit in Horry County District Court Tuesday morning against the Waccamaw Regional Transit Authority, which does business locally as Coast RTA, S.C. Department of Transportation and several other local and state transportation officials.

The 93-item lawsuit claims years of abuse, humiliation, deceit, and ultimately wrongful termination that Rollins said he went through before he was fired in April.

The lawsuit outlines seven causes of action Rollins claims occurred to him throughout the years including defamation, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, violation of South Carolina Wage and Payment Act, interference with contractual relations, and equitable relief.

He seeks $5 million in actual damages, punitive damages awarded by a jury, he wants his job back, back pay and benefits.

The suit lists Coast RTA, the S.C. Department of Transportation, Horry County Councilman and Coast RTA board member Gary Loftus, Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Coast board Chairman Bernie Silverman, Coast board member Katherine D’Angelo, Coast’s Interim General Manager Julie Norton-Dew, and S.C. DOT officials Doug Frate and Hart Baker.

Frate was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. A contact number for Baker, who has since moved from the state, was not available.

The suit alleges Rollins spent his nine-year tenure with reviews from the board where he exceeded expectations annually and he turned the transit around from a $1 million deficit he inherited from the previous management team.

But Rollins’ suit alleges things started turning sour when Loftus got involved. Through the lawsuit, Rollins said Loftus “constantly criticized and questioned” Rollins’ ability to lead the transit. The lawsuit alleges Loftus’ opposition to Coast’s request for more millage in an advisory referendum in 2010 “impaired Coast RTA from growing the system and installing bus shelters.”

Some have tied his firing to the failed bus shelter program where Coast was awarded a $1 million grant in 2005 to erect more than 60 shelters and bus signs throughout the county. When the transit did not make significant progress, the S.C. Department of Transportation pulled the plug on the program in 2013 and subsequently asked for $324,000 in reimbursement for some equipment that had already been installed.

It was the Jan. 30, 2013, appointment of Loftus to the Coast board that Rollins called the “poison pill” to try and destroy the transit and Rollins.

Rollins called Loftus’ actions “oppressive, severe and amounted to conduct that no human being should or could have endured the same” adding that it caused Rollins “fright, shock, humiliation, mental anguish, physical and emotional damages, pain and suffering.”

Loftus said Tuesday afternoon he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on it.

Coast RTA issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon after the papers were served to its Conway offices.

“We haven’t had time to review the documents and plan to forward them to our legal firm this afternoon,” said Michelle Cantey, spokeswoman for Coast RTA through a press release. “Without knowing the particulars of this lawsuit, Coast RTA does have liability insurance with the Insurance Reserve Fund in place to handle situations such as these.

“Once we have conferred with our counsel, we will take their advisement in regards to further comments in relation to this matter.”

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Rollins referred all questions to his attorney, Columbia-based J. Lewis Cromer.

Cromer said Rollins feels he was wronged in many ways.

“He certainly feels he was wrongfully terminated,” Cromer said. “Whether he gets his job back or not would depend on a lot of other circumstances, including whether he would be accepted by the board and whether they would allow him to carry out his duties.”

Cromer said Rollins was blindsided with the vote, and claims some board members met behind other board members’ backs to ensure his termination.

“Mr. Rollins and I hope that we’re sending a message to these folks that you can’t try to throw the driver under the bus and expect the bus not to run you over,” Cromer said.

The lawsuit alleges Rollins was “singled out, ostracized, and treated as a pariah” in his civil conspiracy cause of action against Coast board members listed in the lawsuit, Lazarus, Baker, the S.C. DOT and interim manager Norton-Dew.

Rollins claims in the lawsuit that Norton-Dew became “fast friends” with Coast Chairman Silverman and began to conspire to get Rollins’ job. The lawsuit alleges Norton-Dew tried to entice Rollins not to mention a health insurance overpayment he received in February in an attempt to “hide the oversight from the board.” Rollins also claims Norton-Dew asked Rollins to forge a backdated offer letter that would allow her to cash out her paid leave if she was to be terminated.

Norton-Dew, Silverman and D’Angelo declined to comment Tuesday night.

Per the termination letter, Rollins was still to receive paychecks through the end of June, and should have received a severance package that equals four months of his $183,563 annual salary and benefits package, plus payment of up to 60 days of any unused vacation or sick days.

Cromer said neither of the payouts have happened, but Norton-Dew said payments have been made.

This is the second chief executive fired from the transit in 10 years. Former chief Benedict Shogaolu pleaded guilty to three felony public-corruptions charges in 2006. He was fired from Coast in 2004 after an investigation by the agency’s board showed he misspent public money, mistreated employees and possibly violated state and federal laws.