Brenda Allen sues several members of Lincoln U. Board of Trustees

Lincoln University's 14th President Brenda Allen. (Abdul R. Sulayman/The Philadelphia Tribune)

Lincoln University's 14th President Brenda Allen. (Abdul R. Sulayman/The Philadelphia Tribune)

This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

Brenda Allen, the 14th president of Lincoln University, is suing some members of the Lincoln University Board of Trustees, alleging breach of contract and violations of the state open meetings law.

“We need to ask the court to declare that what happened in the July 10 meeting violated the Sunshine Act, therefore everything that happened there should be null and void,” said Allen’s attorney Riley Ross III. “That would mean there was no vote taken with regards to extending her employment agreement and we’re also asking the court to prevent the member listed in the lawsuit interfering from her doing her job.”

Allen filed her lawsuit Thursday morning in the Court of Common Pleas in Chester County.

Ross said he also will file a motion for a special injunction.

“We’re trying to get in and see a judge as soon as possible, because every day that goes by creates irreparable harm to Dr. Allen and the university,” Ross said. “We can’t treat this like any other complaints.”

Allen, a 1981 Lincoln graduate, has been the university’s president since the board appointed her in July 2017. Her contract expired on June 30.

Through the filing, Allen hopes to get her job back, Ross said.

“Dr. Allen has such a love for Lincoln and wants to get back to the university as soon as possible,” Ross said.

Representatives of the board of trustees did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing conflict between Allen and several board members — chairwoman Theresa Braswell, vice chairman Dimitrius Hutcherson, secretary Frances Paul and university trustee James Jordan, all of whom were named in the suit.

Ross said the lawsuit also includes “board members whose names are currently not listed.”

“A lot of these things happen outside of Dr. Allen’s view and we know it’s not just relegated to those four board members,” Ross said. “If we need to name other people down the road, we will be able to do so.”

Allen said in the lawsuit that board members violated the Sunshine Act (the state’s public meetings law) by voting on her contract in a four-hour executive session on July 10 and “stifling public comment” during the public portions of the meeting.

Allen also alleged that the board violated the university’s bylaws by not giving proper notice of the date and intent of the meeting, and not allowing five recently appointed board members to participate in the meeting and vote on her contract.

If a member board of trustees wants to remove the president, they must give notice one month before the board is to vote on the resolution and the resolution must win the support of a majority of the board, the lawsuit says. But, the lawsuits says, Braswell sent notice of the meeting on June 30, and set the date for July 10 and indicated that the reason for the meeting was “university leadership — next steps.”

The board of trustees has 27 members, but only 21 were allowed to participate in the July 10 meeting where the board voted on Allen’s contract.

Commonwealth trustees Steven Lewis, Charmaine Rochester and Jose Sabastro were appointed to the board by the state House of Representatives on Jan. 21. University trustee Owen Cook was appointed by Gov. Wolf on May 19 and Jalila Parker was appointed by Gov. Wolf to serve as his designee on June 25.

The board said in a statement issued Wednesday that Lewis, Rochester, Sabastro, Cook and Parker were not properly seated because the board had to cancel its April meeting due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they will be seated at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. The board has not explained why it did not take action to seat those board members during the July 10 meeting.

Of the members whose votes were counted, 11 voted against renewing Allen’s contract and 11 voted in favor, the lawsuit says, but it was “erroneously reported that the vote failed 52% against negotiation [of] a new Employment Agreement and 48% in favor of a new Agreement.”

The board also voted 14-7 to begin the search for an interim president.

The board has not disclosed why it wants to replace Allen.

Allen alleges in her lawsuit that “Braswell and Hutcherson conspired to make Hutcherson the de facto president.”

The board sent Allen a letter dated July 13 and signed by Hutcherson that said “her status ended as president on June 30 and that she was not authorized to conduct any business on behalf of the university.” The letter also asked Allen to vacate the president’s residence by July 31.

On Wednesday, the board instructed staff to cut off Allen’s access to her university email, collect her technological equipment and prevent her from entering the president’s office, the lawsuit says.

The board announced on Wednesday that Hutcherson will be working “with the administration on any day-to-day issues where supervisory assistance is required,” i.e. presidential duties, until the board appoints an interim president at a special meeting on July 23.

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