Pete Ellis

West Florence boys' basketball coach Pete Ellis talks to his players against Socastee in Florence on Monday, January 23, 2017.

FLORENCE, S.C. – A former West Florence High School coach has filed a suit against Florence One Schools and an individual.

In a complaint filed Oct. 24, 2018, Pete Ellis, a former West Florence physical education teacher and former basketball coach, alleges that the school district defamed him, that the district tortiously interfered with prospective contracts with other school districts, and that the district defrauded him and made misrepresentations to him.

Ellis also has sued former West Florence interim principal Kelvin Wymbs for defamation, tortious interference with a contractual relationship and civil conspiracy.

A motion in the case regarding discovery has been filed by Ellis in the suit. The hearing on the motion is scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 12 before at-large circuit court Judge William H. Seals.

Ellis declined comment Monday afternoon. He referred all questions to his lawyers, Ryan Hicks and Samantha Albrecht.

The complaint states that Ellis began his employment in or around 2010 when he was hired by the district. Ellis, according to the complaint, maintained an exemplary record, having not been the subject of disciplinary action, winning several teaching awards, going 117-108 in eight seasons as the Knights' coach, and three consecutive Pepsi Carolina Classic championships.

On Feb. 23, 2018, Pam Quick, then the principal of West Florence, resigned. At that time, Wymbs was named the school’s interim principal.

Then, on March 8, 2018, Ellis was allegedly approached by Trey Woodberry, the school’s former football coach and athletic director, and asked to resign.

Ellis responded that he needed time to think before making such a decision.

The next morning, Assistant Principal Randy Jackson allegedly approached Ellis and asked about plans to resign. Jackson allegedly told Ellis the district wanted to go in a different direction and that the community was dissatisfied with the team’s performance.

The complaint notes that the Knights had gone 19-9, 20-5, and 20-4 in the past three seasons and that Ellis was the winningest coach in some time at West Florence.

Ellis allegedly offered to resign as coach if he could keep his job as a teacher.

Jackson allegedly stated that this would be the case.

However, that soon changed.

Jackson allegedly re-approached Ellis and told him that Wymbs would not be putting anything into writing, because South Carolina is a right-to-work state and that if Ellis did not immediately resign he would be terminated as a teacher and a coach.

The complaint says, “upon information and belief,” Ellis was under a continuing contract with the district at this time.

This conversation is the basis of Ellis’ allegations of fraud and misrepresentation against the district. He alleges the district knew he was under contract and could not be fired as a teacher without cause but let Ellis believe he could be so as to force his resignation as the basketball coach.

The district and Wymbs deny committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in their answer to Ellis’s complaint.

Ellis then allegedly told Jackson that he needed to discuss the matter with his wife.

Jackson allegedly refused to provide time, saying a meeting with Wymbs was imminent.

During the following meeting, Wymbs allegedly threatened Ellis’s continued employment by allegedly saying that Ellis was making the situation difficult and the situation needed to be handled quietly, alleging Ellis had leaked the attempted forced resignation to the school’s booster club, and that Wymbs had the “power to do what he wants because he has the votes to clean [West Florence] up.”

This conversation is the basis of Ellis’s allegation of civil conspiracy against Wymbs. Ellis alleges that Wymbs relied upon positions of others in the district, including board members Trisha Caulder and Barry Townsend and interim Superintendent Dan Strickland, to receive “blanket” approval for whatever action he wanted to take.

The district and Wymbs deny committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in their answer to Ellis’s complaint.

Wymbs and Jackson allegedly continued to pressure Ellis into resigning.

Ellis’s wife, Cindy, then became involved by contacting the district’s human resources department.

Word of this contact allegedly made its way back to Wymbs, who allegedly confronted Ellis.

The complaint notes that Ellis recorded this interaction, at which Woodberry also was present.

Ellis had Cindy tender his resignation from coaching on March 9, allegedly having been forced to leave work early and miss several days of school.

Near the same time as resignations by Ellis, Woodberry and Quick resignations, the softball coach, Kevin Jones, and volleyball coach, Hillary Pratt, also resigned.

Wymbs allegedly engaged in conversations about Ellis during the same time. He allegedly responded to Facebook posts about Ellis, saying, “West Florence look for integrity if you go along with wrong your just as bad as the perpetrator,” and “You don’t have to defend me from people who think they are entitled to do whatever they want i got this.”

These statements are the basis of Ellis’s allegation of defamation against Wymbs.

The district and Wymbs deny committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in their answer to Ellis’s complaint.

The complaint alleges the district defamed Ellis by recklessly disregarding the truth by taking personnel action against Ellis and by disseminating information that alleged Ellis was stealing money.

Wymbs also allegedly received a text message from Caulder conveying her support to him at around the same time.

This also plays a part in Ellis’ allegation of civil conspiracy. Caulder allegedly went along with the forced resignation of Ellis because it also meant getting rid of Pratt, the volleyball coach, whom Caulder, who is identified in the suit as a volleyball parent, did not like.

The district and Wymbs deny any committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in their answer to Ellis’s complaint.

West Florence hired Daryl Jarvis as the replacement basketball coach.

This hiring is the basis of Ellis' allegation of tortious interference with a contract.

Wymbs has denied committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in his answer to Ellis’s complaint.

Ellis then began to search for other opportunities for coaching but was told that districts were scared to hire him based upon concerns about his image.

This is the basis of Ellis’s allegation of tortious interference with a prospective contract against the district.

The district denies committing any unlawful actions against Ellis in their answer to Ellis’s complaint.

The district and Wymbs also call for the dismissal of the lawsuit in their answer on grounds that there is no claim for which relief can be granted, that Ellis cannot establish his claims, that its actions are protected by privilege, that Ellis’ suit should be barred by the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, that Ellis does not have any damages — Ellis maintains he has lost the potential to earn income as a coach — that Ellis failed to mitigate any damages he suffered and that Ellis’ claims should be barred by the doctrine of workers compensation.

Morning News reporter Scott Chancey contributed to this report.

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