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Law school files counterclaims against professors

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By Ashley Heffernan
aheffernan@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 22, 2015

The Charleston School of Law has responded and filed counterclaims against two fired professors who sued the school earlier this year.

Nancy Zisk and Allyson Haynes Stuart, tenured professors who were terminated from the school on May 22 along with five other faculty members, filed separate but similar suits against their former employer in June. They say they were fired as retaliation for opposing The InfiLaw System’s purchase of the school.

The Charleston School of Law is facing lawsuits from two fired tenured professors and two current employees. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)The Charleston School of Law is facing lawsuits from two fired tenured professors and two current employees. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

Previous coverage:

In response to the lawsuits, the defendants — Charleston School of Law and its owners, Robert Carr and George Kosko — filed answer-and-counterclaims documents on Monday (Zisk: .pdf; Stuart: .pdf).

The defendants denied many of Zisk’s and Stuart’s allegations and said in the documents that the school’s current financial exigency could have been avoided entirely if Zisk, Stuart and others had not “sabotaged the transfer of the school to InfiLaw.”

Additionally, the school filed four counterclaims against Zisk and Stuart: civil conspiracy, breach of the duty of loyalty, tortuous interference with a contract and breach of contract.

The counterclaim documents say Zisk and Stuart, along with others, conspired to “injure the defendants by openly opposing and intentionally thwarting” the school’s transfer of ownership. Both professors signed a column against the sale that was published in The Post and Courier in May.

The “conspiracy” inflicted “special damage” on the defendants, the documents say, and “robbed defendants of the only opportunity known” to transfer ownership of the school.

The school claims, via court records, that Zisk and Stuart breached their duties of loyalty by signing the column and soliciting other school employees to sign it. They also prepared and printed the column on the school’s official letterhead using the school’s computers, printers and other electronic devices, the documents say.

“An employee has a duty to abide by his employer’s instructions and policies and owes a duty of loyalty to his employer to carry out those instructions and policies,” a counterclaim document says. “It is implicit in any contract for employment that the employee shall remain faithful to the employer’s interests” throughout the term of employment.

The school asked the judge to dismiss claims filed by Zisk and Stuart and award the defendants the costs of the action, attorneys’ fees and unspecified damages.

New lawsuit filed

On Friday, two current Charleston School of Law employees filed a lawsuit (.pdf) against the school, plus Carr and Kosko.

Amanda Compton was hired by the school as a tenure-track faculty member in August 2010, and Jonathan Marcantel joined the faculty in August 2011, the lawsuit says. In December 2014, both applied for tenure and received approval from Dean Andy Abrams to have tenure status voted on by the board of directors.

However, then-President Joseph Harbaugh told Compton in July that she “should not push the tenure question, as the board was ‘angry’ and looking for a reason to deny tenure applications,” the lawsuit says.

Marcantel and Compton sent a memorandum to Harbaugh saying that “delaying the vote on their applications for tenure would be a breach of their employment agreements.” The following month, the board announced a tolling policy on tenure decisions, according to the lawsuit.

“In substance, the tolling policy provided that the board would refuse to review or rule on tenure applications until such time as it, in its sole discretion, decided to. The practical result of the tolling policy was that the board refused to rule on the plaintiffs’ tenure applications,” the lawsuit says.

The pair are suing the school and its owners for breach of contract, declaratory judgment, breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act, tortuous interference with a contract, action to pierce the corporate veil, action for receiver, violations of the S.C. Unfair Trade Practices Act, negligence and gross negligence.

They claim Carr and Kosko “intentionally, willfully, maliciously, and/or recklessly began a campaign of fear and intimidation with the faculty in hopes of pressuring the faculty into supporting the sale and transfer to InfiLaw,” and said the owners held meetings to “threaten the faculty into supporting the InfiLaw transaction.”

The lawsuit also says Carr and Kosko initially planned to terminate 10 faculty members but ended up firing only the seven highest-paid faculty members because the eighth-highest member, who was not identified, had made a call to InfiLaw representatives in support of the sale.

School spokesman Andy Brack declined to answer any questions regarding the three lawsuits.

“The school does not comment on pending litigation,” he said in an emailed statement.

Calls to Marcantel and Compton, as well as their attorney Meredith Coker, seeking comment were not returned by press time.

Reach staff writer Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyBHeff on Twitter.

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