A Fulton County jury awarded former CAU professor Deborah Cook $400,000, $300,000 in damages and $105,000 in attorney fees. Cook was one of 54 faculty members let go in 2009 due to what the college termed as an “enrollment emergency” of plunging student admissions.
According to her defense attorney, Patrick McKee of Newnan’s McKee & Mitchell, the biology professor had been with CAU since its merger of Clark College and Atlanta University in 1988. One of the original members of the school’s Department of Biological Sciences, court filings say that Cook’s annual evaluations showed that she consistently met or exceeded expectations.
“She had been awarded significant grants, won number accolades and been promoted throughout her career,” McKee told The Daily Press. According to the courts, Cook’s final evaluation in 2007 ranked at 5, the highest possible score.
According to the Daily Press, Cook’s career began to unwind in 2008 when CAU’s new president, Carlton Brown, declared an enrollment emergency. Defined in the faculty handbook as a “sudden or unexplained progressive decline in student enrollment the detrimental effects of which are too great or too rapid to be offset by normal procedures outlined in the handbook,” Brown explained his decision in the defense portion of the pretrial order.
“The enrollment shortfall resulted in a drop in anticipated tuition revenues of $4 million and a corresponding decrease in available operating revenue for 2008-2009,” said the defense account. Brown estimated that enrollment would only be 3,400 students, down from 4,068 in 2008.
Brown’s estimate caused CAU to cut 54 faculty members and around 30 staff members.
McKee filed a breach of contract against CAU in 2013 claiming that the university had not met the requirements for declaring an enrollment emergency laid out in the handbook, nor had it followed the procedures for laying off faculty members once an emergency had been declared, according to The Daily Post.
Judge Kimberly Adams ruled in favored of Cook and on Jan. 30 the jury awarded the professor $300,000 on damages and $105,000 in attorney fees.
CAU’s attorney, Duluth solo Gary Thomas, declined to comment on the case.