Biology Professor & Demorest Mayor Rick Austin Accuses President Mellichamp of Sexual Harassment


Former Biology Professor Robert Wainberg’s case against Piedmont College has taken on a strange twist with fellow Biology Professor Rick Austin accusing Piedmont College President James Mellichamp of sexual harassment.

Although this developing story began as a civil suit between a former professor and the college, the lawsuit began to dredge up allegations of corruption within Piedmont College. In an amended complaint filed March 28 by Julie Oinonen, Robert Wainberg’s attorney, “Defendant [Piedmont College] has sought to cover-up this information concerning the resident’s violations of Title 9 policies from the College Newspaper and other local news publications.”

After a judge’s formal refusal of Piedmont College’s motion to strike all allegations that were “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous” from the record, such as the claim that President Mellichamp sexually harassed two individuals, Austin — who is also mayor of Demorest — filed an affidavit on March 13 confirming the allegations.

The affidavit details Austin’s account of sexual harassment he allegedly received at the hands of President Mellichamp. Austin claims, under oath, that he has “received unsolicited emails and/or statements” from Mellichamp that were sexual in nature. These communications included either “sexual innuendo, sexual overture or were inappropriate in nature.”

The document includes a detailed description of the alleged assault occurring in August 2011. “I was in President Hollingsworth’s Outer Office. At the time, Mellichamp was Vice President. I was talking to Debbie Zimmerman, the President’s Secretary,” Austin says in the affidavit. “As I waited for the President to become available for a short conversation, Mellichamp approached and grabbed my buttocks remarking ‘Oooh you’re in shorts today’ continuing to walk by into the President’s inner Office.”

During the time of the incident, Austin says that President Mellichamp was his superior as Vice President of Academic Affairs. “His action was clearly overtly sexual in nature to me. I believe [it] constituted a sexual assault and an abuse of power,” Austin says in point eight. “I remember stating to Debbie Zimmerman ‘Did you see that?’ and she replied, ‘Yes I saw that.’ Then I said to her, ‘I am uncomfortable.” and she replied, ‘I am uncomfortable too.’”

Austin claims to have “made a complaint of sexual harassment to the President concerning Dr. Mellichamp’s actions,” and told former President, Danny P. Hollingsworth, that he did not want these actions to continue. “After making my complaint of sexual harassment, no one from Piedmont College ever conducted an investigation addressing this issue.”

Austin believes that “Dr. Mellichamp has not just engaged in sexual harassment, but has deliberately covered up unlawful acts of sexual harassment.” Austin claims to be aware of an incident in which a female employee was sexually harassed by a former male employee. He says that “President Mellichamp dismissed her oral report and told her: ‘I just need you to sit on this for awhile.’”

At this time, there have been no further public documents, reports or statements from Piedmont College regarding the allegations. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” said John Roberts, director of marketing and communication.

Austin has also declined to comment.

Regarding the original lawsuit, Austin claims that Mellichamp terminated Wainberg’s employment “in bad faith” — Wainberg’s employment was terminated on a Title 9 charge, which regards sexual harassment and assault.

“President Mellichamp, who is accusing Dr. Rob Wainberg of violating Title 9, has illustrated a blatant disregard for Title 9 through his own sexual harassing behaviors, reflective that his reasons for terminating Dr. Wainberg are not true reasons,” says Austin. “I am confident that Dr. Rob Wainberg did not violate Title 9 or sexually harass any student. I [have] known Dr. Robert Wainberg for many years, both as a student and a colleague.”

“I met with President Mellichamp on Wednesday, April 25 in my capacity as mayor of Demorest,” the affidavit states. “At the end of that conversation, Dr. Mellichamp spoke to me about when Dr. Wainberg intended to retire and if I thought Dr. Wainberg would entertain being given a sabbatical. It was clear to me that the President and Piedmont College were looking for a clear exit strategy for Dr. Wainberg, a tenured professor.”

Austin said he is “concerned of retaliation from the President,” and that “both my colleagues and myself are fearful of retaliatory behavior by the President and/or Piedmont College.”

The staff editors of The Roar chose to withhold from publishing this story in the print edition when it was originally written several weeks ago. To read why, click here.