Veteran files lawsuit against WKU

Trey Crumbie

WKU is engaged in another new lawsuit.

In July, Jason D. Gati filed a seven-count suit against WKU, which included violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, fraud and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Gati is a retired Army sergeant, according to court documents. He suffers from a spinal injury he received during his service and cannot be seated for more than an hour at a time.

In August 2010, Gati was admitted to WKU to pursue a Master of Arts in Education for mental health counseling. 

Gati lives in Rineyville, approximately 80 miles away from Bowling Green. Due to Gati’s condition, he could not make the commute from his home to the main campus. Because of this, he took classes online and at the Elizabethtown campus, about seven miles away from his home. Gati said he was informed that the counseling program was “wholly offered” at the Elizabethtown campus by Crissy Priddy, who served as assistant director of Graduate Admissions at the time.

In April 2011, Gati attempted to register for summer classes, but saw that no classes were being offered in the counseling program either online or at the Elizabethtown campus. 

Gati contacted Bill Kline, department head of Counseling and Student Affairs, to ask why no classes were being offered, according to court documents. Kline said classes were cancelled because of “money issues, teacher shortages, and ‘other factors’ that he said he could not discuss,” according to the lawsuit.

In May 2011, Kline emailed Gati suggesting that he would need to come to Bowling Green on a regular basis to take his classes and WKU could not offer the “bulk” of the counseling program at the Elizabethtown campus.

Kline instructed Gati to register with Student Disability Services, which is now called the Student Accessibility Resource Center. Kline said if Gati did this, Kline’s “hands will be tied” and he would be required to allow Gati to take the class through Interactive Video.

Gati completed an application to receive special adjustments. Kline emailed Gati and told him that he would be “checking into ITV as a reasonable accommodation.” 

Kline stated to Gati that he needed to produce documentation of what would be reasonable accommodations. 

Gati emailed Howard Bailey, vice president for Student Affairs, requesting that the counseling program classes be made accessible through classes at the Elizabethtown campus and through the internet.

Bailey denied Gati’s request in June 2011 and stated that the counseling program had been phased out in order to respond to changes in accreditation standards. Gati submitted an official disability grievance form to Bailey, but Bailey found the grievance to be without merit, according to the lawsuit. 

Bailey told Gati that he would have to come to the main campus to complete the courses not offered at the Elizabethtown campus. As an alternative to commuting from Rineyville to Bowling Green, Bailey suggested Gati live on campus.

General Counsel Deborah Wilkins said there are limitations to some of the classes WKU offers.

“There are some courses that you just can’t teach online,” she said.

Gati filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education, in June 2011. He alleged that WKU discriminated against him on the basis of disability by failing to properly consider his disability-related academic adjustment request and failing to provide him with a fair and equitable grievance process for his complaint of disability discrimination.

In October 2012, OCR determined WKU violated the ADA and failed to provide Gati with a fair and equitable grievance process. WKU agreed to revise its disability discrimination student grievance procedures.

Wilkins said the redrafting was needed.

“The procedure had not been revisited in years,” Wilkins said. “It’s always good from time to time to look at how processes operate.” 

Gati left WKU and enrolled at Lindsey Wilson College.

Daniel Canon, the attorney representing Gati in the suit, said the reason the lawsuit was only recently filed was the speed of certain administrative processes.

“The wheels of justice turn slowly,” he said.

Canon said he feels confident Gati has a good case.

“Obviously, we feel as though he’s been injured in a way that the law recognizes and that he’s entitled to compensation for that,” he said.

There are four other lawsuits against WKU and one against specific WKU employees. WKU is defending the suit on behalf of the employees.