In a lawsuit he filed against Johnson C. Smith University, former head football coach Daryl McNeill says a contract provision allowing for his termination was inserted by mistake.
The language in question, he alleges, was meant for assistant coaches, not for multi-year contracts like the one he signed in 2004. McNeill also says that former JCSU President Dorothy Yancy was surprised when, days after his firing, she learned that the contract she signed with him had wording that allowed for his termination.
McNeill coached at JCSU for four seasons before he was fired in November by the school’s current president, Ronald Carter. McNeill filed suit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court last month alleging breach of contract, which was first reported last week by the Charlotte Post.
In court papers reviewed by Qcitymetro.com, McNeill said he rejected two better-paying coaching jobs to stay at JCSU. He did so, he said, because he believed he had employment security.
What follows is a synopsis of McNeill’s account as told in those papers:
McNeill interviewed for the JCSU job on Dec. 2, 2004. He was associate head football coach/ offensive coordinator at North Carolina A&T, earning $65,000 a year.
Yancy offered him a five-year deal with a $75,000 starting salary. She also named him assistant athletic director.
McNeill said a JCSU human resources official soon told him that he must re-sign his contract yearly, always in July, to receive a paycheck the following month. The University, he said, never stated any intent that the annual re-signing would shorten his five-year deal or alter its terms.
On July 6, 2006, McNeill says, Yancy called him to say that she had spoken with Shaw University President Clarence Newsome, who was seeking permission to speak with McNeill about becoming Shaw’s head football coach.
McNeill soon interviewed at Shaw and was offered a four-year deal and a $90,000 starting salary. McNeill discussed the offer with Yancy, who agreed to upgrade the coach’s office and provide better pay for assistant coaches.
McNeill agreed, based on those terms, to stay at JCSU.
Four months later, McNeill was again being courted, this time by Benedict College in Columbia. He interviewed there and was offered a five-year contract and a starting salary of $110,000.
Yancy again summoned McNeill to her office, stating that JCSU would not lose him to Benedict. She offered bonuses for his staff, pay raises, additional scholarships and a five-year contract extension that would go to 2014. She told McNeill his contract would be “similar to that of a tenured professor,” he alleges in his court papers.
According to McNeill’s complaint, Yancy stated: “When I retire no one can come in here and fire you unless you give them a reason.”
The two signed an agreement that same day, taking McNeill’s salary from $78,750 to $98,000.
“Dr. Yancy intended that the new employment period could only be terminated for cause,” he says in his complaint.
By August 2008, McNeill’s salary had climbed to $100,940, but he would never see that full amount.
Yancy retired from JCSU days after signing McNeill’s new contract, and Carter had since been hired to lead the school.
On Nov. 6, 2008, the lawsuit alleges, Carter gave McNeill a termination letter and “demanded that Coach McNeill remove his belongings from his office by the next day.” The letter stated that McNeill would receive “two months’ severance pay, as specified in your employment contract.”
McNeill said he reviewed his original 2004 contract and discovered, for the first time, that it included a provision, known as paragraph 3(b), that permitted JCSU to fire him without cause. Only a 60-day notice was required.
McNeill’s lawsuit alleges that paragraph 3(b) was “mistakenly inserted” into the original deal.
“Coach McNeill agreed to employment only on the condition that his contract last five years,” the documents state. “Coach McNeill would not have left his prior position and agreed to employment that could be terminated without cause upon sixty days notice.”
The lawsuit alleges that paragraph 3(b) was a standard provision in some contracts used by the university, including those for assistant coaches.
Three days after he was fired, McNeill’s wife, Savonne, “contacted Yancy” and read the 2004 contract as it related to paragraph 3(b).
According to the lawsuit, Yancy responded: “That’s in there? That was not my intent.”
McNeill contacted the university to discuss the “misunderstanding of the employment agreement as revealed in the Termination Letter” but was rebuffed.
“The University continued to abide by its communication in the Termination letter by only allowing Coach McNeill access to his office on November 7, 2008 and ceasing to provide salary and benefits on January 6, 2009,” he says in his complaint.
Forty-nine days after his pay and benefits ended, McNeill filed his lawsuit.
Yancy could not be reached for comment by Qcitymetro.com.
When asked about the lawsuit, JCSU issued a statement to Qcitymetro.com on Monday, saying: “We respect Mr. McNeill’s right to file a lawsuit. The University is in talks with our legal counsel and will respond immediately. We have no other comment on the lawsuit at this time.”