N.C. Central University Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye, whose installation ceremony is tomorrow, is the subject of a new lawsuit filed by former NCCU Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Benjamin Durant.
According to an article posted today by WRAL, Durant claims he was fired over criticizing Akinleye’s choice to buy a $69 thousand GMC Yukon Denali.
The suit was filed on Tuesday in the Durham County Superior Court with Durant seeking a full reinstatement, back pay, attorney’s fees and punitive damages from Akinleye.
These allegations come the day before Akinleye’s official installment ceremony entitled “Fulfilling the Dream.”
According to the lawsuit notes, Akinleye used university funding late last year to purchase the vehicle after being denied by the state’s Department of Administration when his $3,800 worth of customization (22-inch rims, leather seating, tinted windows, etc.) classified the car as a “luxury vehicle.”
According to the department, the vehicle was later sold by the state at an auction for a net loss of over $12,000.
In the WRAL article, Durant claims Akinleye looked to the university’s NCCU Foundation for a solution. His alleged goal was to have the foundation to raise private money for reimbursement, but their reluctance led the chancellor to back down from that plan to preserve political clout.
According to Durant, this led to Akinleye becoming “enraged” during a secret meeting and walking out — not before allegedly insulting Durant and exclaiming that he was fired.
Durant was officially terminated two days later. Since he was an at-will employee, the university would not hear his grievance over the firing.
The lawsuit also includes accusations toward UNC Board of Governors members Harry Smith and Darrell Allison. Durant claims Smith and Allison were present — including Akinleye and others — at a series of secret meetings that focused on NCCU’s plans for new on-campus housing.
These secret meetings also occurred during the time Akinleye sought to purchase his vehicle.
In the suit, Durant claims that Akinleye, Smith and Allison were trying to push a student housing contract with Preiss Development of Raleigh and ignoring other firm options. He also claims that he was constantly pressured to bid on the contract despite wanting a fair decision process.
“The lawsuit is basically alleging that an almost 28-year public servant [with an] unblemished record was terminated from his position for no good reason – and for a lot of bad reasons,” Katie Abernathy, Durant’s attorney, said in the article, “all because he tried to do the right thing and tried to get other people to do the right thing.”
In the article, Smith agrees the purchase of the car was a “bad judgment” call approved by an unknown party. Yet, Smith denies the allegations of favoritism, despite being a known donor to Preiss Development, since the company was the first of nine options rejected.
Allison denied allegations in the lawsuit as well.
NCCU responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
“North Carolina Central University has acted in accordance to its policies and procedures. The allegations made will be vigorously challenged and defended in the court of law.”
This story will continue to be updated as more information is provided.