The ousted president of Lincoln University on Thursday sued its board of trustees, saying they breached her contract and violated state law in a secret vote to not extend her tenure late last week.
Brenda Allen, who had led the Chester County university since 2017, wants an injunction barring the trustees from acting on their vote, and declaring it invalid and a breach of the state’s open records law. She also seeks damages for humiliation she said she suffered while “being denied her rightful position as president of Lincoln University.”
The 21-page lawsuit, filed in Chester County Court, accuses the two leaders of the trustees, chair Theresa Braswell and vice chair Dimitrius Hutcherson, of conspiring to deny her a proper and fair evaluation and vote on an extension of her contract.
The clash between the trustees and the president that had been simmering for months but burst into the open in the last few weeks.
After a secret vote Friday night, the board announced that it was moving forward with selecting an interim president to replace Allen, whose three-year contract leading the historically Black university expired June 30.
The lawsuit says Allen contacted Braswell in February and requested an extension of her contract. Braswell said she would be in touch but did not follow up, according to the lawsuit.
It alleges that Braswell later suggested that Allen’s contract would be considered at a performance evaluation June 29 — but that Braswell did not mention the issue during that meeting, and “falsely stated” that Allen had never requested an extension.
After Allen’s contract expired, her lawsuit says, Braswell and Hutcherson “conspired” to make Hutcherson Lincoln’s “de facto president.”
Hutcherson — who sent out news releases on behalf of the board after its vote Friday — declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
“The Board of Trustees will continue to move forward on behalf of Lincoln University,” he said in an email. A special meeting is scheduled for Thursday to select an interim president.
Allen’s supporters, including students and faculty, had challenged the trustees’ vote, which occurred during an executive session that lasted more than three hours. More than 250 people waited in a Zoom conference for the board to return. When it did, Braswell announced that trustees had voted by 52% to 48% against negotiating a new contract with Allen. Braswell did not specify the vote breakdown.
In the lawsuit filed by her lawyer, Riley Ross, Allen contends the vote was actually 50/50, with 11 trustees voting for a new contract and 11 against, and five trustees appointed to the board by the commonwealth were not allowed to vote. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had told the board the day before the meeting that the appointees should be permitted to participate.
In a message circulated among Lincoln alumni, Rosalie Hornbuckle, a former board member, said the board had “stacked the vote” against Allen, and muted trustees who tried to speak up during the Zoom meeting.
Since taking over at Lincoln in July 2017, Allen had won support from many in the Lincoln community and been credited with boosting student retention and alumni giving. More than 14,000 people signed a petition to keep her as president, and students, faculty, staff and alumni are planning to march Saturday in support of her.
”Dr. Allen is devoted to Lincoln University,” Ross said. Of the “illegal moves” to oust her, he said, “She is not going to tolerate it.”