Supreme Court of Kentucky puts end to 2009 lawsuit

The President’s Building


The Kentucky Supreme Court has upheld a ruling against WKU in a 2009 case in which a staff member claimed President Gary Ransdell forced her to retire against her will.

In her lawsuit, Elizabeth Esters sought $44,617.80 in damages and “alleged that she was working pursuant to an employment contract, under which she could only be terminated for cause, when she was forced by WKU President Gary Ransdell to retire against her will on December 31, 2008,” according to court documents. 

The total awarded to Esters after the near seven-year trial amounts to $76,127.22, including interest on the judgment, court costs and attorney fees, according to Deborah Wilkins, WKU’s general counsel.  

At the time of her retirement, Esters was working as a staff assistant to the president as well as secretary to the Board of Regents. Her position within the Board of Regents was earned via election, according to court documents.

Esters won her case at trial, and that ruling was upheld at the Kentucky Court of Appeals. WKU sought discretionary review before the state Supreme Court, but that request was denied in an order signed June 3 by Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble, effectively ending the case. 

The university had employed Esters since 1972, and up until her retirement had received optimal performance evaluations, court documents show.

“Esters claimed that President Ransdell constructively discharged her by telling her that she needed to ‘go on and retire’ and that she would be leaving midyear. In other words, she would be fired if she did not retire,” according to the Court of Appeals affirming opinion. “Esters claimed that she suffered contractual damages in the amount of $44,617.80, which equaled her salary and benefits through the end of the contract period.” 

“I don’t have any comments to offer on the matter beyond what I have given to the Herald in the past,” Wilkins said via email. “The case is over, and we will move on and direct our attention to other litigation.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Thursday morning with information on the total judgment amount.