One of WKU’s lawsuits dismissed, six pending

Taylor Harrison

Although WKU hasn’t had any new lawsuits filed recently, it has six lawsuits pending and one that was dismissed this semester. 

Deborah Wilkins, chief of staff and general counsel, said that she doesn’t think there are any trials scheduled for this year. 

“We don’t have anything new,” she said. “We are starting to take depositions in a lot of the cases.”

This means people are being put under oath and asked questions in preparation for a trial.

Wilkins also said this is the most lawsuits WKU has ever had, but said it’s a pretty low litigation load compared to other institutions in Kentucky. 

“We work pretty hard to try to resolve things before they get to that point,” she said. “Sometimes, you just can’t. People are going to sue, and you have to let the process run its course, but we feel confident about what’s out there now.” 

President Gary Ransdell said he’s not worried about the current lawsuits, because he thinks WKU will win most, if not all, of them. 

“They’re fairly routine and for a university with 2,300 employees, and a $400 million budget and 21,000 students, I do not find the fact that there are six matters currently in litigation to be of great concern,” he said. 

He said he is confident they will prevail, “as we have nearly all of our cases that have come along in my 16 years as president.” 

The lawsuit that was dismissed on Feb. 4 involved a former student, Arianna Petty, suing WKU because she alleged she suffered physical and emotional damage as a result of a physical altercation with another student and “that WKU was negligent in not preventing the altercation,” according to a lawsuit summary provided by Wilkins. 

WKU filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction and the court granted the motion.

“I think they just failed to prosecute it,” she said. “If you don’t keep active in a case, the judge will dismiss it because they want to clear their dockets…” 

Another lawsuit against WKU is Cheryl Lewis-Smith v. WKU, who filed a civil suit alleging her position was eliminated due to her race, age and as a result of retaliation for bringing discrimination concerns to WKU’s attention. 

Elizabeth Esters, following voluntary retirement, alleges an employment contract existed between her and WKU and was breached. 

Other lawsuits involving Gina Brown, Raymond Elms and Marilyn Gardner also allege discrimination based on different variants. 

Another case, Whitney Beckner vs. Miss Kentucky State Pageant Org., does not name WKU, but is filed against WKU employees as individuals. It alleges injuries suffered during Beckner’s participation in the 2012 Miss Kentucky USA Pageant. 

“People have a right to file a lawsuit and we just have to defend it,” Wilkins said. 

Wilkins said even though she tries to resolve problems before they go to a lawsuit, sometimes it’s inevitable. At that point, she focuses on following procedure.

“My goal is if we have to go to court that we can say, ‘We did everything we could to treat this person fairly, to resolve it, we followed our policies,’ and that’s why I think we’ve been successful when we go to litigation, because we can show, you know, we did everything we had to do and could do,” she said.