published Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Former teacher sues UTC for $4 million

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An English teacher who worked for UTC for the past eight years has sued the school and named four professors in a $4 million lawsuit alleging slander and a conspiracy to oust her when her contract was not renewed this spring.

Melinda Paige Keown filed the lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court Wednesday and named professors Verbie Lovorn Prevost, Joe Wilferth, Susan North and Chris Stuart as defendants along with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

In the five-page complaint, accompanied by 14 exhibits, which include emails and letters between her and UTC staff, Keown claims that, over the past three years, the four professors "conspired among themselves to commit defamation of character, both libel and slander" against Keown and submitted "false, misleading and malicious information regarding" her job performance.

But faculty emails and letters included in the lawsuit filing describe Keown as difficult to communicate with and defensive of criticism.

Keown is seeking $500,000 from each of the four professors, $2 million in punitive damages from the university, back pay and to be reinstated to her job as lecturer. If not reinstated, Keown is asking for an additional $1 million for future losses resulting from her potential unemployment, according to court documents.

University spokeswoman Cindy Carroll said Friday it is the policy of the institution not to comment on pending litigation.

Keown claims North retaliated against her because Keown refused to follow North's "unethical direction."

Through some of her exhibits, Keown claims that faculty in the English Department didn't offer her an opportunity to respond to student complaints, absences and other concerns mentioned in her recent evaluations.

Prevost wrote in one message that she had repeatedly asked Keown to discuss her concerns about evaluations.

"But you have chosen not to do so, preferring it seems to carry on some sort of paper war in which you use emails to make a series of outrageous (even libelous) accusations without offering any evidence," Prevost wrote.

Stuart, chairman of the faculty review committee that voted unanimously not to renew Keown's contract, wrote to Wilferth, the department head, that "(Keown) has responded to reasonable criticism from students and supervisors defensively and unconstructively."

The school has 30 days to file an answer or response to Keown's complaint.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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