Former CCU professor's lawsuit claims he was fired over false assault allegation

GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A former tenured professor of English at Coastal Carolina University is suing the school and several senior faculty members, claiming he was unfairly fired over false allegations of assaulting a college dean; the professor says he merely patted the dean on the back to get his attention.

Daniel Turner, a Georgetown County resident, filed the lawsuit against CCU and three faculty members on Monday. Turner was terminated from his position as a professor of English at the university on November 29, 2017, after he exhausted the school's internal appeals process, the lawsuit states.

The suit alleges that Turner clashed for years with Daniel J. Ennis, the Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, over Turner's insistence on "transparency, academic freedom, and shared faculty governance," but he was ultimately fired over false allegations that he assaulted Ennis after an English Department meeting on October 18, 2016.

During the meeting, Turner sought clarification about an issue regarding reimbursement for professional travel expenses, the suit states. Turner was cut off during the discussion, and Ennis "began to leave briskly without fully responding" to Turner.

Turner made a comment about a financial issue, then followed Ennis out of the meeting, and patted him with an open hand on the back to get his attention, the suit states.

Ennis then said to Turner: "Did you just hit me?" according to the lawsuit. Ennis then walked away without any evidence of physical injuries from Turner's back pat.

The suit continues to detail steps taken by the university after this incident: police officers came to Turner's office and questioned him about the alleged "assault," but he was not arrested or asked to leave campus.

Later that afternoon, officers arrived at his Georgetown County home and served him with a letter stating he had been suspended without pay, the suit states.

Turner claims in the lawsuit that throughout the process of his suspension and termination, no charges were filed, and the university provided no evidence of violation of the terms of his tenure.

In January of 2017, Turner met with Provost and Executive Vice President J. Ralph Byington, who "made it apparent at that meeting that his mind was made up that [Turner] should be terminated," the suit states. Turner was given two options: resign or be fired. Turner refused to resign.

The suit states that months later, the University Promotion and Tenure Committee ruled 8 to 0 against the university, finding that revocation of Turner's tenure was not appropriate. Nevertheless, the university's president reversed the unanimous decision without further investigation or an explanation, the suit claims.

Turner filed the lawsuit against the university, Ennis, Byington, and Kate Faber Oestreich, another English professor, for breach of contract, negligence, public policy discharge, violation of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and other state laws, including speech and due process, defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy.

Turner is requesting a jury trial, and is seeking damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and all other equitable relief deemed necessary, including reinstatement.

CCU provided the following statement:

The University  has recently  been sued by a former professor over his dismissal.  With respect to tenured professors, the University maintains a thorough process of checks and balances for the institution and for the protection of 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.

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