CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The former chancellor of East Carolina University has sued the University of North Carolina system over his departure from his job last year, saying his exit was the result of a vendetta by a school official.
The lawsuit filed by former Chancellor Cecil Staton alleges his “decades-long career was the casualty of a long-running irrational and obsessive vendetta” by Harry Smith, the university system’s former board of governors chairman, The News & Observer reported.
The issue between the two men arose when Staton “rejected an unethical business proposal” Smith made about off-campus student housing at the university, the lawsuit said.
Board of Governors Member Steve Long previously told the newspaper that Smith, a real estate investor, wanted to remove Staton from his position when he rejected the proposal that would require some students to live in housing complexes Smith wanted to develop.
Staton’s lawsuit also alleges that former UNC System President Margaret Spellings told him she was “under enormous pressure” from Smith to fire him, and was under threat of losing her job if she refused.
The lawsuit filed this month added that Smith, Attorney Peter Romary and his firm QVerity, who are all listed as defendants, also “prepared, published and disseminated” an online dossier that called Staton’s hiring a “gross negligence.”
Staton complains that memo ended his chances of getting other jobs, including one at the University of Texas.
Smith said in a statement to the newspaper that he had “no knowledge or involvement in the dossier” and “would never do anything to harm Cecil in any job endeavor.” He has also said he was not involved in Staton’s departure, and only paid attention to the job performances of university leaders to measure their success.
The former chairman stepped down from the school system’s board last year after Staton’s departure, saying he didn’t have the energy to do the job anymore, the newspaper previously reported.
UNC System Spokesman Jason Tyson declined to comment on the lawsuit to the newspaper. It was not immediately clear if Romary and QVerity had lawyers who could comment on their behalf.