Former dance coordinator files discrimination lawsuit against WKU

A student rushes past the “Trust” statue sculpted by Kendra Fleischman located on the top of Western Kentucky University’s campus on Monday morning, Aug. 31, 2020. Gordon Wilson Hall, the building behind the student, is home WKU’s Theater and Dance Program, who are currently dealing with the struggle of having to have classes in-person while still following COVID-19 guidelines.

Laurel Deppen

A former dance associate professor has filed a lawsuit against WKU and three university-affiliated parties, claiming violation of Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act.

The plaintiff, Clifton Brown, was an associate professor and dance coordinator at WKU. He resigned in 2016 “because of continued discrimination and harassment,” the lawsuit stated.

The suit was filed in Warren County Circuit Court on Oct. 14. It states Brown was subject to “a hostile work environment due to his race, color, and sexual orientation,” and alleges this affected his work. Brown is Black and identifies as gay.


David Lee, WKU’s historian, is named individually as a defendant because of his former position as provost and dean of the college of arts and sciences, along with Amanda Clark, associate professor and dance program coordinator.

David Young, theatre and dance department head, is also individually named as a defendant. 

This is the second pending lawsuit against both Young and WKU filed this year. The previous suit was filed by a former student in August and is also related to racial discrimination in the theatre department.

Brown’s attorney, Lindsay Cordes, also represents Jada Jefferson and Andi Dahmer in federal suits against the university. 

“It is deeply disheartening how [Brown] was treated at WKU in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and unfortunately his experience does not seem to be isolated based on statements from others,” Cordes said in a statement. “We look forward to litigating his claims.”

Young and Clark did not respond to the Herald’s email requesting comment. Lee said he could not comment on the legal matter.

The five-count suit claims Brown was discriminated against due to his race, color and sexual orientation. It mentions instances of employment discrimination, specifically Brown not being promoted to full professorship, according to the lawsuit.

The suit states Brown was a key reason WKU’s dance department received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Dance. WKU is the only Kentucky college with this accreditation.

Brown alleges the defendants took adverse employment actions against him after he reported discrimination at work, claiming retaliation in violation of Kentucky law. The suit also accuses each defendant of harassment and a hostile work environment. 

The suit accuses Young, Lee and Clark of “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

It claims violation of Kentucky’s whistleblower act, saying Brown reported instances of fraud, inappropriate conduct and concerns regarding racial and sexual harassment and discrimination to WKU’s Equal Employment Opportunity office and was met with retaliation.

WKU denied Brown was subject to these things, according to a statement from Kerrick Bachert, the law firm representing the university.

The law firm’s statement says after Brown applied for full professorship, he was informed of why the committee did not choose him and was invited to apply again.

“After thorough evaluation, the Theatre and Dance Promotions Committee concluded that the overall quantity and quality of Mr. Brown’s creative and scholarly activities, teaching efficacy, and service to the Department and the University did not warrant his promotion to full professorship,” the statement read.

The statement claims that after Brown filed a notice of discrimination by WKU, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found “it could not conclude WKU violated Title VII’s discrimination provisions.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

“WKU believes Mr. Brown’s legal claims against Defendants are without merit and will file a response to the Complaint in due course in which it will address each allegation in more detail and assert all applicable defenses,” the statement read.

This story may be updated. 

Laurel Deppen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @laurel_deppen.