Did the University of the Cumberlands agree to pay its former president. Dr. James Taylor and his wife, Dinah Taylor, nearly $400,000 annually in salary and benefits upon Dr. Taylor’s retirement and then renege or threaten to renege on that deal as the couple has claimed?
Can the university afford to pay someone that much a year for doing nothing, even if that person raised millions of dollars in donations for the school during his 35 years as president?
These are the issues that a jury will be asked to consider given the couple’s lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in London.
“The use of economic coercion against an elderly couple, including threats of the loss of their residence and health insurance, as well as their income, in an effort to accomplish a breach of a longstanding and enforceable contract is an affront to decent society, and is outrageous in light of the relationship between Dr. and Mrs. Taylor and the university, which employed them for so many years,” Georgetown attorney D. Duane Cook argued in the lawsuit.
Taylor served as president of the university from Aug. 1, 1980, until his retirement on Oct. 15, 2015,
Cook argued in the lawsuit that the matter of Taylor’s retirement compensation dated back a decision by the board of trustees in 2005.
During Taylor’s tenure as president, the school, which was formerly known as Cumberland College, grew considerably in terms of programs offered, physical size of the campus and assets managed by the university.
In 2005, it was felt that Taylor’s compensation was significantly lower than the presidents of other similarly situated colleges, the lawsuit alleged.
On Oct. 21, 2005, the board of trustees voted unanimously in closed session to continue Dr. Taylor and Dinah Taylor’s salary and benefits after his retirement as president, and to appoint him as chancellor of the university immediately thereafter, according to the lawsuit.
On a motion by board member Bill Hacker and second by board member Dave Huff, the board unanimously adopted a resolution to continue those benefits to Dinah Taylor if her husband preceded her in death, and to amend the bylaws of the university and the president’s contract as necessary to include establishment of the position of Chancellor and the salary and benefits for the couple, the lawsuit stated.
On April 19, 2012, the board of trustees carried out a contract to that effect, which was referred to as the “Taylor Agreement,” which was unanimously approved by the board of trustees on that date, according to the lawsuit.
The “Taylor Agreement” set out the retirement benefits the university agreed to provide Dr. and Mrs. Taylor, including payment of their health insurance benefits, continuing to pay Taylor’s salary as of the date of his retirement as president, and the provision that Dinah Taylor would receive her husband’s salary if he died first, the lawsuit stated.
The “Taylor Agreement” also provided the couple with a residence or apartment in Williamsburg, and other benefits for the remainder of their lives.
On Wednesday, Cook filed an affidavit in the lawsuit signed by Jim Oaks, who served as its chairperson of the university’s board of trustees for several years starting from 1982 until the end of 2014.
In the affidavit, Oaks backs up Taylor’s claims that the board of trustees voted to continue Dr. Taylor and Dinah Taylor’s salaries and benefits following his retirement as president.
“On October 15, 2014, as the expected time for the retirement of Dr. Taylor as President of the University got closer, the board unanimously reconfirmed the commitment of the University to provide a benefits package for Dr. and Mrs. Taylor to include salary in effect on Jan. 1, 2015, all previously approved insurance for Jim and Dinah Taylor, plus all other perks they were receiving at the time,” Oaks affidavit stated.
“For as long as I served on the board, it was the sense of all board members that Dr. and Mrs. Taylor served in their respective capacities for compensation lower than that of many comparable colleges and/or university presidents and their wives, and that Dr. Taylor and Mrs. Taylor greatly exceeded all fundraising expectations, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the University. Many of the annual evaluations of Dr. Taylor support this statement.”
For its part, the university has released a statement claiming that the “agreement” was not disclosed to the board of trustees until more than eight months after Dr. Taylor ceased to serve as the university’s chief executive officer.
It also casts doubt on the legitimacy of the document.
“After looking into the circumstances surrounding that document, the university is strongly of the opinion that the document was never shown to the Board of Trustees before it was signed, nor properly approved by the Board,” the university said in its statement.
Both Taylor and the university seem to be able to agree upon one thing.
Not long after Taylor’s retirement, the university attempted to renegotiate Taylor’s compensation, which totals about $395,000 annually with all the benefits.
The university’s statement indicates that the school has been working with Dr. Taylor for nearly a year to try and reach an agreement about his continuing role after he chose to resign as president of the school.
The university offered Dr. Taylor a compensation package valued at over $150,000 a year for part-time employment, but Taylor refused to budge or negotiate and instead filed a suit insisting that he and his wife be paid nearly $400,000 every year under an arrangement that would require the university to pay them for as long as either of them is living, whether or not they do any work for the university, according to the university’s statement.
“The university could not agree to use students’ tuition payments and the faithful support from its donors in such an irresponsible manner. The university exists to provide an opportunity for students of all backgrounds, especially those in the Appalachian region, to have a college education. The university does not exist to unfairly benefit a single individual, no matter how long he has served the university,” the university said in its statement.
The university’s statement also indicates that the school has worked “very hard” to resolve the disagreement with its former president, but that he has “refused both negotiation and mediation and instead chosen a federal courthouse as the means for resolving the conflict. It is sad that Dr. Taylor has chosen to attack the university to which he has devoted so much of his life and energy.
“The university will continue to conserve the funds which have been entrusted to it, accomplishing its educational mission for the benefit of its students and the community. It will vigorously oppose any effort to divert its resources for the unjust enrichment of a private individual.”
Taylor’s lawyers have used a different word besides “negotiate” to describe the process.
“After his retirement, the University has attempted to coerce Dr. and Mrs. Taylor into accepting substantially less than is owed with threats to cease paying any benefits owed under the ‘Taylor Agreement,’” the lawsuit alleged.
According to the lawsuit, the school offered a one-year renewable contract at a salary “substantially” below that set forth in the agreement.
“He was told if he did not accept this new contract his relationship with the university would terminate, that no benefits would be paid, and that he would lose the use of a university-owned apartment in Williamsburg, the university owned vehicle he drives, and the cellular telephone he uses, all of which were benefits to him under the ‘Taylor Contact,’” the lawsuit alleged.
“Despite these threats, Dr. Taylor did not accept any offer from the university for less than he had been previously promised. Dr. and Mrs. Taylor have been informed by the university that their agreement with the university will not be honored and their retirement benefits have been terminated.”
Cook said Thursday afternoon that Taylor’s benefits had been dropping off since his retirement, and that he was threatened with having all benefits stopped if he filed suit but he hadn’t heard if the university had actually done so.
Cook also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction Wednesday that would force the university to keep providing Taylor and his wife with benefits while the lawsuit was being resolved in court.
Dr. Taylor also alleged in the lawsuit that accusations that he had the contract drawn up in a “deceitful or scheming manner” were false, and that he was harmed by the publication of these statements.
The lawsuit also contains an affidavit from Dr. Taylor, who states that the cessation of retirement benefits for he and his wife would totally change their lives.
“It is likely that we will have to sell our house without the retirement benefits coming in, and that will be devastating to both of us,” Dr. Taylor wrote in the affidavit.
The affidavit goes on to say that the loss of health insurance has already impacted their lives Mrs. Taylor having already canceled doctor appointments and laser surgery to both her eyes that she was going to have done to repair damage from prior cataract surgeries.
“At this point Mrs. Taylor has no health benefits, long-term healthcare and other insurances that have been terminated,” Dr. Taylor wrote in the affidavit. “She is now having to pay out of pocket for prescriptions that she needs. We are fearful all the time that if we have an accident or serious illness, that it will be catastrophic because there is no insurance. The worry and stress on us from this sudden change of finances from everything we had relied on has caused both of us an incredible strain.
“At this point, we are considering the probability that we will have to sell everything to pay living expenses. We have already withdrawn $100,000 from our retirement fund to pay the bills we owe now, and to get that money we had to pay a non-refundable 20 percent penalty for withdrawing it. We feel like the University is trying to starve us out.”
The lawsuit asks for a trial by jury, a judgment against the university, and attorney fees in addition to any other relief that the couple might be entitled to receive.
So far the university hasn’t filed a response to the lawsuit.