Former employee sues ACE, says director wrongfully fired him

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 19, 2012 

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A former employee at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence is suing the school and its director, alleging fraud, defamation and wrongful termination.

Michael Dunn, who worked for about six years in the finance department, was fired March 25, 2011. Ten days before, Dunn had sent a letter to the school's governing board outlining his concerns about financial "irregularities" at the school, according to court documents.

The suit, filed Sept. 27 in Beaufort County Court, says Dunn's termination followed a consolidation of the school's finance department, which shifted oversight to the school's human resources director, Lisa Wiggins.

The consolidation resulted in "serious problems" with payroll, bill payment, accounting, payment authorization and other financial areas, the suit says.

Wiggins also is suing the school, the former assistant director and a teacher for race discrimination and defamation. She was fired in early June.

ACE is a joint venture of the Beaufort and Jasper County school districts, governed by a board that includes three members of the Beaufort County school board and three from the Jasper County school board. The districts' superintendents also sit on the board.

When the school's board received Dunn's letter and other calls and emails from school employees, the Beaufort and Jasper County school districts launched an investigation of the school. The boards ordered that financial and human resources functions be turned over to the Beaufort County School District for one year.

Dunn said he was told his position was eliminated but asserts he was actually fired in retaliation for reporting the financial problems.

The suit says he re-applied for his former position when it was renamed and posted as a vacancy in June, but he was not rehired.

Dunn is asking that the court order ACE to reinstate his employment with back pay or grant him monetary damages.

Attempts Thursday to reach Dunn's attorney, Cory Fleming, were unsuccessful.

The school and ACE director Chris Dinkins deny most of the claims in their response. Some reporting issues arose when payroll functions were outsourced, court documents say, but that was unrelated to Wiggins' new role.

Following the school districts' investigation, the school's governing board approved 20 actions including reviewing employee benefit records and ensuring employees who participated in the investigation were not subject to retaliation.

The districts' findings were sent to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. The Jasper County Sheriff's Office had also asked SLED to investigate the school.

The response states Dunn was not fired in retaliation, but that his job was consolidated with other areas of human resources.

Dinkins and the school have asked that the suit be thrown out.

Attempts Thursday to reach Kenneth Childs, Vernie Williams and Dwayne Mazyck -- attorneys for the school and Dinkins -- were unsuccessful.

Dinkins has resigned as the school's director, effective July 1.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content

  1. Academy for Career Excellence director to step down; Jan. 11, 2012
  2. Former HR director sues ACE, former administrator, teacher; Jan. 3, 2012
  3. Academy for Career Excellence board fires one employee, reprimands two leaders; May 19, 2011
  4. School officials to investigate 'financial and personnel matters' at career academy; April 6, 2011

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