SC State president files lawsuit alleging breach of contract

Claims 'personal dissatisfaction' is not a valid reason to be fired

The president of South Carolina State University (SC State) has filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging the board of trustees' move to fire him was without cause and thus he is entitled to severance pay, The State reports.

The lawsuit comes as the school struggles financially and the state legislature considers a proposal to close down SC State temporarily.

Background story: South Carolina legislators move closer to taking over SC State

Enrollment at the historically black college has fallen by about one-third since 2007, and only 14% of its students graduate within four years. It also owes $10 million to maintenance and food vendors and is running a $17 million deficit.

SC State President Thomas Elzey was placed on administrative leave Feb. 23 following a push by alumni and African-American lawmakers to remove him from his position. Elzey filed a lawsuit Tuesday which claims a breach of contract after he failed to reach an agreement on severance pay with the board of trustees.

Elzey's contract runs through 2017, and according to a legislative analysis he would be entitled to $427,386 in pay if fired without cause. Nancy Bloodgood, Elzey's attorney, says, "No offer was made near that." However, she adds, "There's always room for settlement."

The key to Elzey's lawsuit is why he is being ousted. Critics say he is to blame for the school's financial woes, while Elzey counters that the board of trustees did not give him enough authority to make budget cuts. Specifically, the lawsuit argues "mere subjective and/or personal dissatisfaction" with Elzey is not a valid reason to fire him without compensation.

Meanwhile, the budget subcommittee of the South Carolina House moved Tuesday to eliminate the S.C. State board of trustees. If the measure is approved by a full vote of the House, the board would be replaced by the state's Budget and Control Board. Another proposal to restructure the university could be debated in the State Senate as soon as Wednesday (Shain/Cope, "The Buzz," The State, 3/3).

The takeaway: The president of embattled South Carolina State University has filed a lawsuit against his employer, alleging its move to fire him without compensation constitute a breach of contract. The school has been struggling financially and a number of initiatives are underway to restructure or temporarily close the institution.

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