RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Saint Augustine's University has fired its president, Christine Johnson McPhail.
McPhail, who was named president in 2021, succeeding her late husband, Irving Pressly McPhail, told our newsgathering partners at the News & Observer that she learned she was out of a job on Sunday.
In an interview Monday with the N&O, McPhail said the board of trustees told her Sunday she had been fired without providing specific reasons. "I'm still trying to figure that out for myself," she said.
SAU Board of Trustees Chairman James Perry declined to comment on McPhail's firing saying it was a personnel issue when asked. He confirmed to ABC11 that Marcus Burgess will be interim president "soon" as "the Board already voted on it."
McPhail became the university's 13th president after "an extensive national search" to fill the vacancy left after the school's 12th president -- her husband, who died in October 2020 from a COVID-19 related illness.
McPhail's attorney said the firing is tied to a discrimination complaint. She had filed the complaint, alleging discrimination based on her gender, against the board weeks earlier. The complaint described demeaning comments about her gender from members of the board, as well as them yelling at her and berating her.
"She filed an internal complaint on Oct. 9, 2023, which alleged that certain conduct created a hostile environment," her attorney, David Tracey of New York City firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, said in an interview with ABC11. "Thereafter, members of the board of trustees pressured her to recant and threatened her job."
He said he and his client subsequently learned the board voted to terminate her on Nov. 14, but didn't notify her until Sunday.
"Dr. McPhail is a consummate professional. She's worked tirelessly to support the university and with the best interests of the university at heart," Tracey said. "It is incredibly disheartening and disappointing that the university has taken the action it has taken against Dr. McPhail shortly after she notified the university of discrimination and retaliation."
The next steps could include filings with EEOC, and all actions are on the table.
The SAU Board of Trustees released the following statement:
"Chairman James Perry announced today that the Board of Saint Augustine's University has voted to release Dr. Christine McPhail from her position as president. The Board denies the unfounded allegations Dr. McPhail has made against the University, and the Board is prepared to defend itself and the institution.
The University will have no further comment on these issues given that this is a personnel matter. Instead, the Board is focused on restoring the University's standing with SACSCOC under new University leadership.
The University's accreditation is critical to the University's ability to continue as one of the predominant HBCU's in this State. This critical mission will remain our central focus as we continue to support the faculty, staff, alumni, and, most importantly, the students of Saint Augustine's University."