Former Paine College vice president’s lawsuit progresses

Former Paine College Senior Vice President Brandon Brown, left, answers questions at a 2014 news conference held after a student was injured by gunfire. To his left are Chief Richmond County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Clayton and former Paine President George Bradley. Brown sued the college for four years’ unpaid salary after he was terminated later that year. Paine’s efforts to have the case dismissed were recently denied and it appears headed to trial in U.S. District Court. File/Staff

Former Paine College official Brandon Brown’s lawsuit against the financially troubled college appears headed for trial after a recent order filed by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall.

 

Brown was a 2000 graduate of Paine hired by former Paine President George Bradley as the vice president of institutional development in 2008. Bradley resigned in 2014, not long after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the historically black college on probation for failing to correct 10 accreditation violations, most of them involving financial management standards.

Shortly before he resigned, however, Bradley extended Brown a four-year employment contract. On the date he resigned, Bradley instituted an addendum giving Brown a severance package “for any premature termination” that Brown might encounter before the end of his four-year term, according to facts established in Hall’s order and detailed in court filings.

Brown was in Augusta this week with his attorney, Fletcher Smith, and met briefly with a reporter. Brown said he is working in Greenville, S.C., where his wife, former WJBF anchorwoman and fellow Paine alum Kimberely Scott, recently joined television station WSPA .

Brown would like to return to his former role and has been sought by some of the college’s trustees for consulting work, Smith said.

“We would like to resolve this before trial, but I don’t think Paine College has any intention of doing that,” Smith said. “I’d hope President (Jerry) Hardee and certainly Paine College would want to get this behind them.”

The Paine College Board of Trustees selected Hardee as the college’s president in April to replace interim President Samuel Sullivan, who held the top post for almost three years and handled Brown’s termination. A request for comment from Paine or Hardee made to Helene Carter, the assistant vice president for institutional advancement, who typically handles media requests, received no reply.

The lawsuit offers insight into operations at the private college. Affidavits filed in the case show Brown’s four-year contract included a salary of $110,000 plus a $400 monthly housing allowance and that he sought about $400,000 in unpaid wages when Sullivan fired him.

An affidavit describes a July meeting in which Paine trustees expressed concern Bradley wasn’t aggressive enough in collecting tuition from students who owed money. A vote of no confidence was taken, and absent trustees who tried to call in votes of support of Bradley were not allowed to vote, it states.

Bradley’s 2008 contract included a salary of $150,000, with annual $5,000 increases and permission to hire his wife, Tina Marshall-Bradley.

Appointed in September 2014, Sullivan informed Brown on Oct. 6 that his employment contract was unenforceable, but he also offered Brown a new contract to serve as vice president of institutional advancement at a lower salary of $93,000 and on an at-will basis, according to the order.

Brown declined the lower offer, and Sullivan fired him in October 2014.

In his response to Sullivan, Brown cited his accomplishments at the college, including raising its national profile, securing $2.5 million in Augusta sales tax revenue for the Health Education Activities Learning Complex, and bringing aboard the “Hull Scholars” program, a scholarship program funded through a $250,000 endowment from Augusta businessman Jim Hull.

The same month, Brown sued Paine and Sullivan in a South Carolina court for the four years’ pay he says he is owed under the contract. Paine got the case transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, where Hall has determined that triable matters of fact exist.

Paine has contended that Bradley wasn’t authorized to enter into contracts after June 15 or for multiple years, as specified in the college policy manual – but Bradley had entered into similar multiyear contracts with other Paine staffers that weren’t revoked, and Sullivan himself had offered Brown a new contract in October, the order states.

Hall also denied Paine’s motion for summary judgment on the claim that Brown should have known Bradley was unable to give Brown a multiyear contract or that Brown gave up nothing to enter the four-year agreement, something required under Georgia contract law.

“In exchange for a four-year commitment from Paine College, plaintiff committed himself to Paine College for four years,” Hall wrote.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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