Former WKU employee seeks $500,000 in damages

Cameron Koch

A former human resources employee at WKU is taking action, having filed a lawsuit on Jan. 27 against the university, claiming she was terminated from her position based on her race, age and whistle-blowing.

This is WKU’s eighth ongoing civil suit pending at this time.

Hired in 2004 as Human Resources manager for employment and training, Cheryl Lewis-Smith was fired from her position on April 19, 2010.

Lewis-Smith also served as an elected council chairman on the University Staff Council at the time when she lost her position.

Part of Lewis-Smith’s job was to report cases of employee discrimination, including cases that involved herself. Her complaint states that she believes that, due to her race, her salary was negatively affected and that procedures were not followed in an attempt to keep Lewis-Smith from the “chain of command,” according the complaint.

Lewis-Smith reported her beliefs to the WKU Equal Employment Office, the General Counsel, and Finance and Administration in December 2010.

The next month, Lewis-Smith claims she was “chastised” by her boss, Director of Human Resources Tony Glisson, for filing a report, according to the civil complaint.

Glisson informed Lewis-Smith three months later that her position was to be eliminated, citing a need to downsize the department as well as poor performance, according to the court documents.

Just prior to her elimination, Lewis-Smith’s complaint states that she scheduled an appointment about the matter with President Gary Ransdell but that the meeting was canceled by “someone in administrative power,” according to the complaint.

After her position was terminated, Lewis-Smith filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who, after reviewing the case, granted Lewis-Smith 90 days to file charges, which she did. The EEOC is a federal commission that enforces federal employment discrimination laws relating to race, sex, religion, age, etc.

Lewis-Smith is seeking compensatory damages in the form of $500,000 as well as punitive damages.

Pamela Bratcher, Lewis-Smith’s lawyer, said that the EEOC is looking at the possibility of prosecuting the claim of racial discrimination.

Bratcher said that she and her client are waiting to hear the EEOC’s decision before moving the case further.

“If the EEOC is going to become involved and take over the race discrimination claim, we would probably let them,” Bratcher said. “They have a lot more enforcement power than we would in a civil lawsuit.”

In its response, WKU denies that Lewis-Smith was discriminated against or that she reported claims of discrimination to the WKU departments previously listed.

The university also denies the claim that Glisson “chastised” Lewis-Smith and that Lewis-Smith scheduled an appointment with Ransdell that was later canceled.

WKU seeks to dismiss the case.