Former District Four superintendent files suit seeking severance pay

February 6, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – Rechel Anderson, a former superintendent of Florence County School District Four, has sued her former employer, the South Carolina Department of Education and state Superintendent of Education Molly M. Spearman.

In a lawsuit filed on Aug. 1 in Florence County Common Pleas Court by attorney William B. Harvey III of Harvey and Battey, P.A., of Beaufort, Anderson alleges that the defendants breached her contract as superintendent of Florence County School District Four.

“On or about November 28, 2017, the District Board of Trustees met in regular session and voted that the last day of employment of Interim District Superintendent [Zona] Jefferson would be December 31, 2017, and that the Plantiff’s employment as District Superintendent would begin January 1, 2018,” the complaint states. “On December 22, 2017, by and with the knowledge and consent of Defendants Spearman and SCDE, Defendant District entered into the Professional Employment Agreement ... for a term certain of three years from December 31, 2017, until December 31, 2020, at an annual salary of $115,000.”

Anderson also alleges the board of trustees, with the knowledge of the Department of Education and Spearman, voted unanimously to approve an addendum to the employment agreement on Jan. 23, 2018, and that the agreement was extended by the board of trustees, with the knowledge of the Department of Education and Spearman, until June 20, 2021.

On May 8, 2018, Spearman announced a declaration of emergency that allowed her to take the step of removing the board of trustees from control of the district.

“In a subsequent meeting with Plaintiff on May 8, and on behalf of the Board of Defendant District, Defendant Spearman announced that she was unilaterally terminating Plaintiff’s Employment Agreement, effective June 30, 2018. Plaintiff’s last day of work for Defendant District was June 1, 2018,” Anderson states in the complaint.

Anderson also says that in the event of unilateral termination of the contract by the board, she is entitled to one year of severance pay in the amount of $115,000.

“Plaintiff has made demand upon the Defendants for this severance pay, and Defendants have refused to honor the terms of the Employment Agreement, and have failed to provide any reason why Plaintiff is not entitled to the terms of her Agreement,” Anderson said in the complaint. “As a result Defendants have breached the Employment Agreement with the Plaintiff.”

Anderson asks the court to provide relief in the amount of $115,000, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs and expenses of the lawsuit.

Spearman and the South Carolina Department of Education, through attorney Andrew F. Lindemann of Lindeman, Davis, and Hughes, P.A., of Columbia, answered the complaint on Sept. 17, 2018. In their answer, Spearman and the department of education admit knowing that Anderson was hired by the district but deny consenting to the hire. Spearman and the Department of Education deny knowledge of or consent to any modification of Anderson’s employment agreement.

They also deny unilaterally terminating Anderson’s contract and that Anderson is entitled to one year of severance pay.

Spearman and the Department of Education also lists other defenses including failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, insufficient service of process, lack of personal jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, that Spearman and the department cannot be held liable for breach a contract to which they were not parties, that the contract is invalid, failure to follow the grievance process and failure to mitigate.

Florence County School District Four answered the complaint on Oct. 5, 2018. The district alleges that it can only be sued on the provisions of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act and that the act bars her claims.

The district admits to the dates of the meetings but does not admit to anything regarding a contract between the district and Anderson. The district also denies that Anderson’s contract was terminated by Spearman and that the contract includes the payment of one year’s salary as severance.

The district also alleges a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, that sovereign immunity applies, failure to follow grievance procedures, failure to mitigate and that Anderson is not entitled to attorney’s fees or costs.

Judge Michael G. Nettles will hear a motion in the case on Feb. 19. Anderson has filed a motion to compel Spearman and the Department of Education to respond to discovery.

The case will also be in front of Judge D. Craig Brown on Feb. 25 for a protective order motion filed by the district.