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Crenshaw v. College

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 27, 2018

William Crenshaw, Appellant,
v.
Erskine College and David A. Norman, Respondents.

          Heard February 14, 2018

          Appeal From Abbeville County Eugene C. Griffith, Jr., Circuit Court Judge Appellate Case No. 2015-002090

          E. Charles Grose, Jr., of Grose Law Firm; and Robert J. Tinsley, Sr. and Robert Jamison Tinsley, Jr., both of Tinsley & Tinsley, P.C., all of Greenwood, for Appellant.

          Thomas H. Keim, Jr. and Leland Grant Close, III, both of Ford & Harrison, LLP, of Spartanburg, for Respondents.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         William Crenshaw appeals the trial court's order granting Erskine College's (Erskine) motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). We reverse.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Crenshaw was a tenured professor at Erskine. On September 24, 2010, a student in Crenshaw's English class who had fallen in an athletic team practice earlier that morning became disoriented and lethargic. Crenshaw-a former paramedic- called Robyn Agnew, Erskine's Vice President for Student Services, to inform her of the situation and requested she call an ambulance. After the ambulance arrived, Crenshaw and members of Erskine's athletic training staff disagreed over whether the student should be transported to the hospital.

         Following the incident, Crenshaw and Erskine's Head Athletic Trainer, Adam Weyer, engaged in an email exchange. Crenshaw suggested Erskine scrutinize the athletic department's protocol for handling emergency medical situations. Crenshaw asserted the athletic department's protocol of having student athletes report to athletic trainers before they see doctors endangers students. Crenshaw further alleged the trainers erred in delaying emergency medical transport for the injured student in his class. Weyer accused Crenshaw of "taking the matter into his own hands" and not following athletic department concussion protocol of contacting athletic training personnel before calling for an ambulance.

         As a result of the ambulance incident and its aftermath, Weyer filed a grievance against Crenshaw. Weyer accused Crenshaw of violating athletic department protocol and making slanderous remarks both online and in class regarding the athletic training staff. Weyer's grievance was cosigned by Mark Peeler, Erskine's Athletic Director. Gid Alston, the Chair of Erskine's Department of Health and Human Performance, also filed a grievance against Crenshaw. Alston accused Crenshaw of potentially harming the image of the athletic training program by slandering Erskine's athletic trainers.

         The grievances were forwarded to Erskine's faculty grievance committee to mediate the dispute. Following a meeting, the committee determined it could not formulate a mediation plan and sent the grievances to Erskine Dean Brad Christie. Weyer, Peeler, and Alston declined Christie's offer to mediate, and the matter was forwarded to Erskine President David Norman for adjudication.

         In November 2010, Norman appointed a special faculty grievance committee to help adjudicate the matter. Norman requested the committee assess Crenshaw's behavior in handling the emergency situation and his professionalism and collegiality during and following the situation. Crenshaw gave a statement to the committee, denied the allegations against him, and agreed to answer any questions. Following two meetings, the committee determined it was unable to help resolve the situation and returned the matter to Norman. Thereafter, Norman began the process of terminating Crenshaw's employment based on (1) Crenshaw's conduct during and after the ambulance incident[1]; (2) Crenshaw's "obstructionist actions" before the grievance committee[2]; and (3) Crenshaw's disparaging remarks about Erskine on his blog[3].

         Pursuant to Erskine's Faculty Manual (the Manual), the procedure for terminating a tenured faculty member's employment for cause begins with "Preliminary Proceedings." Preliminary proceedings require the President to seek to resolve the matter with the faculty member in private and states if the matter is not resolved by mutual consent then the President will formulate a statement describing the grounds for dismissal.

         The second step in the procedure is titled "Formal Proceedings." The formal proceedings step states:

The President will inform the tenured faculty member in writing of the dismissal and the grounds for it. The President will also advise the tenured faculty member of the right to a hearing before a faculty committee and will indicate the time and place of the hearing. In fixing the time and place of the hearing, the President will allow sufficient time for the tenured faculty member to prepare a defense. The President will inform the tenured faculty member of the procedural standards set forth here. The tenured faculty member will reply in writing ...

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