WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A federal judge on Friday denied a motion filed by the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees to dismiss a lawsuit filed by former CFCC President Ted Spring. Spring resigned as president in January 2015 following a series of WECT investigative reports detailing his purchases with his college-issued credit card.
Spring filed the lawsuit in March 2015, alleging he was forced to resign in violation of his right to due process. He is seeking back pay, damages, and reinstatement to his job as college president.
"The implication was clear that plaintiff could either resign or the board would seek to terminate his employment," the judge's order states.
While the judge found ample evidence that Spring indeed resigned, he said the court should still consider whether Spring's resignation was "so involuntary that it amounted to a constructive discharge...triggering the protections of the due process clause."
Judge Terrence Boyle said the court will attempt to determine if Spring was (1) given some alternative to resignation, (2) understood the nature of the choice he was given, (3) whether he had a reasonable amount of time to consider his options, and (4) whether he was allowed to select his effective resignation date.
During discovery, testimony was given that Spring was told in closed session at a January 2015 CFCC Board of Trustees meeting that if he did not immediately tender his resignation he would be fired. Because it is not clear that Spring was given time to consider his decision or the opportunity to meet with his attorney, "the Court cannot on this record conclude that plaintiff's resignation was voluntary." For those reasons, the judge is allowing Spring's breach of employment contract claim to proceed to trial
The court also found Spring is entitled to proceed to trial on his claims that the board of trustees violated his constitutionally guaranteed and protected liberty interests. For this kind of claim, "a plaintiff must allege that the charges against him: (1) placed a stigma on his reputation; (2) were made public by the employer; (3) were made in conjunction with his termination or demotion; and (4) were false."
Spring says a number of unflattering statements made about him to the media by college officials have made it difficult for him to find employment elsewhere. Attorneys for the CFCC Board of Trustees contend that comments college officials made to the media in the wake of Spring's resignation were true, and therefore legally defensible, even if unflattering.
"[T]he he said/she said nature of the evidence regarding the plaintiff's actions, statements made by board members, and the news media are sufficient her to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to the truth of the statements made publicly by board members following plaintiff's resignation," Judge Boyle wrote in explaining why Spring's liberty interest claim could proceed to trial.
"We're very pleased with the Court's Order, and look forward to a trial of this matter", said Gary Shipman, attorney for Dr. Spring.