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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rush sues Ozarka

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Douglas W. Rush, former president of Ozarka College who was fired July 7, has filed a lawsuit against the college, board members and the vice president of finance.

The suit, filed Oct. 28 by Rush's attorney, Denise Reid Hoggard of Little Rock, contends that the board injustly fired Rush from the position he had held since 1993. It lists the college's board of trustees, Barbara Perryman, Bonnie Wyatt, Bennie Cooper, George Thomas, Sharon Mathis, Lawrence Billing, Paul Balentine; Vice President for Finance Gayle Cooper; and Ozarka College as defendants.

Mathis said she was served the suit on Saturday. She and board members referred comments to Arkansas' Assistant Attorney General Don K. Barnes, who represents the school.

Barnes had not returned a phone call to Areawide Media as of press time Nov. 8.

Rush's contract with the school was terminated because he failed to comply with state laws, was dishonest and insubordinate and didn't follow college policies after being warned, according to Board Chairman Barbara Perryman of Viola. Perryman, along with Thomas of Salem, Wyatt and Cooper, both of Melbourne, voted to fire Rush. Members Balentine of Mountain View and Billing of Horseshoe Bend voted to keep Rush. Mathis of Cherokee Village abstained from voting.

On Aug. 24 Rush asked the college to reinstate him due to breach of contract. He also requested that the college hold a name-clearing hearing. Both requests were denied.

"Defendants, jointly and severally, acting in concert and individually wrongfully terminated Plaintiff's employment, publically communicated defamatory statements about him, interfered with his right to contract, violated his constitutional rights of due process, free speech, retaliated against him for exercise of a protected right and violated clearly held public policies of the State of Arkansas," the suit said.

The board had renewed Rush's contract May 27, 2004, for a term to expire June 30, 2006. Under the contract he was paid an annual salary of not less than $121,494.

Rush had planned to retire under the state's Teacher's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, but was unable to do so because of the firing, the suit said.

The document claims Rush has suffered emotional distress, lost wages and benefits, medical expenses, significantly diminished employment opportunities, shock, outrage and humiliation from being fired from office.

Rush is entitled to "reinstatement to the same position, reinstatement of full fringe benefits and retirement service credit, compensation for lost wages, benefits and any remuneration, injunctive relief, attorney fees and reasonable court costs," the suit claims.

Cooper gave a written statement to the college's board of trustees "in which he made false statements against Mr. Rush which had the intent of and the effect of tortuously interfering with Mr. Rush's contract of employment," the suit said.

Rush's attorneys say he is protected by the Arkansas Whistle-blower Act which "prohibits a public employer from retaliating against an employee who participates or gives information in an investigation, hearing, court proceeding, legislative or other inquiry or in any form of administrative review."

Rush said he angered members of the board in June when he informed them that two meetings they had -- one at Gaston's Resort during the board's annual retreat in May, and another meeting at the college in June -- were illegal. During the May retreat the board invited Ash Flat Mayor Brien Nix Hall into the executive session, and during the June meeting Cooper was invited into the executive session, both in violation of the state's Freedom of Information Act, the suit said.

No decisions were made at either meeting, according to Perryman. The meeting at Ozarka College was to discuss a personnel matter, Perryman said in a July interview.

Rush is requesting a trial by jury on the claims. If judgment is awarded, he asks for preliminary injunctive relief and temporary and permanent restraining orders against all defendants and all costs and attorney's fees to be paid by the defendants. He asks for reinstatement to the position of president or full pay and restoration of benefits in lieu of his job.

After Rush was fired, the board appointed Cooper as interim president of the college. Karla Rush has served as acting president since late September when Cooper had to take a leave of absence due to health issues. Karla Rush is distantly related to Rush, she said.

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