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August 7, 2014

Winthrop, former president headed to dispute resolution session

Winthrop University and the school’s former president will head to a dispute resolution session soon in light of the Board of Trustees’ firing of Jamie Comstock Williamson, claiming she violated the South Carolina nepotism law, lied to trustees and mistreated campus employees during her first year in office.

Winthrop University and the school’s former president will head to a dispute resolution session soon in light of the Board of Trustees’ firing of Jamie Comstock Williamson, claiming she violated the South Carolina nepotism law, lied to trustees and mistreated campus employees during her first year in office.

On Wednesday night, some trustees held a special called executive session of the board but did not indicate specifically that they were discussing pending legal mediation or the lawsuit that Williamson has threatened.

Soon after Williamson was suspended June 13, her Rock Hill attorney, Bev Carroll, said Williamson was considering suing Winthrop and individual trustees for breach of contract, slander and defamation.

Two weeks later, Winthrop trustees fired Williamson, saying they’d lost trust and confidence in her as president.

Williamson’s employment contract with Winthrop grants a right to use dispute resolution when certain issues arise. Under the contract terms, the “aggrieved party” must give notice to the other party within 10 business days “of the issue giving rise to the dispute.”

The former president has requested mediation under her contract, board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham told The Herald on Wednesday. Bigham said she could not comment further on the expected mediation, citing pending legal matters.

Carroll could not be reached for comment about the mediation on Wednesday.

Williamson’s contract states that mediation should take place, if possible, within 30 days of a notice of intent to use dispute resolution. Winthrop is responsible for mediation costs but Williamson is responsible for her own attorney fees, if she chooses to use her attorney during the dispute resolution, the contract states.

The contract also provides for legal arbitration if mediation is unsuccessful. A “final and binding” decision on how to solve the dispute then would rest with the arbitrator, according to the contract. That decision could include an order for “legal and equitable remedies that are available with respect to the claim being asserted.”

When discussing the board’s reason for going into a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night, trustees did not mention plans to talk about pending litigation or to receive legal advice. Trustees said they were discussing several “presidential” matters, including employment, appointment, compensation and “contractual” issues.

The board also talked about a proposed real estate purchase, according to the motion made just before executive session.

Winthrop officials say trustees expect to meet Aug. 25 just before the school’s annual convocation to discuss the presidential matters and real estate purchase in a public meeting of the board.

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