WKU loses legal appeal

Gary Ransdell mug


The Kentucky Court of Appeals denied WKU’s appeal regarding the longest-standing legal case currently involving the university.

Since 2009, former Board of Regents secretary Elizabeth Esters claimed President Gary Ransdell forced her to retire against her will on Dec. 31, 2008. She claimed “contractual damages” of $44,617.80, the equivalent of her salary and benefits she would not receive in her contract year, according to court documents. 

“Esters claimed that President Ransdell constructively discharged her by telling her that she needed to ‘go on an retire’ and that she would be leaving by midyear,” the court’s ruling said. 

In 2011, the Franklin Circuit court decided Esters was working under an authorized contract, which WKU appealed to in December of that year by submitting briefs rather than oral arguments to the court. Esters maintained she would’ve been terminated if she didn’t retire, while WKU argued that Esters was an at-will employee. On Jan. 22, 2013, the Franklin Circuit Court again found in favor of Esters’ claims. The university took to the court of appeals, and on April 11, 2014, received another rejection of their claims. 

“We agree with the circuit court that whether Esters was terminated is not the issue in this case because the Board did not vote to terminate her employment,” the ruling said. “The issue is whether Esters’ decision to resign was voluntary. Furthermore, we agree with Ester’s argument that an employee’s at-will status may be altered by an agreement with the employer.”

Deborah Wilkins said her only comment regarding the case is that the opinion is under review by the university and pursuing further action is being considered. 

Greg Stivers, the attorney handling the case on the university’s behalf, said the court’s ruling was unexpected. 

“At this point, the university has two options,” he said. “They could either ask the court for a rehearing, or ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case.”

Stivers said he could not comment further on the matter. 

President Gary Ransdell said the university would be appealing the court’s “flawed decision.” 

“First of all, the Board secretary duties has no compensation,” Ransdell said. “She was a university employee. She retired and she began drawing her state retirement benefits. I don’t understand how the courts can say she’s due more compensation, because the secretary duties are purely in service to the board and not compensated… I think they overlooked some important variables in this particular matter.”

Wilkins said the university would be taking further action to combat the decision, potentially taking the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court, but formal decisions have yet to be made.