WKU involved in multiple ongoing civil suits

Tessa Duvall

According to a document provided to the Herald by Deborah Wilkins, chief of staff and general counsel, there are five civil suits open against WKU at this time in addition to the Amy Eckhardt case.

—Elizabeth Esters, who voluntarily retired from WKU, claimed an employment contract between her and the university was breached. No jury trial will be conducted in this case, as both parties have agreed to submit briefs and undergo review by a judge. Briefs were submitted on Jan. 31.

—Gina Brown, a black woman fired by WKU on Jan. 16, 2009, filed a complaint that alleges a “hostile” work environment and “disparate” treatment due to her race, gender and age. WKU has denied the allegations, and the suit is still in the discovery stage.

—Raymond Elms, 48, was fired by WKU on Oct. 5, 2010, is now suing WKU alleging age-based discrimination. According to Kentucky law, it is illegal for an employer to fire, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate against anyone due to their age if the individual is older than 40 years old. WKU said Elms, a WKU employee for 27 years, was fired for his excessive use of a university cell phone, including 218 long-distance phone calls and 5,687 personal text messages. This suit is pending before the court.

—Joseph Martin, who worked at WKU’s Central Steam Plant from October 2006 until he was fired in February 2010, filed a civil suit against WKU and Sodexo, the company that operates the plant on campus, in February 2011. In the suit, Martin alleges that he was fired in retaliation for filing for worker’s compensation. Martin suffered a knee injury on the job in 2007, but later returned to work with no restrictions. A year later, Martin begin to experience problems with his injured knee and was given work restrictions in January 2010. These restrictions prevented Martin from fulfilling his job responsibilities, and it is because of this that he was terminated, WKU said. The suit is pending before the court.

—Marilyn Gardner, who is currently employed at WKU as an associate professor of public health, filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court against WKU, President Gary Ransdell and the WKU Board of Regents, alleging that the university failed to accommodate her disability. Gardner has myasthenia gravis, which is an autoimmune disorder, and bilateral hearing loss, which limits her ability to perform manual tasks, see, hear, walk, stand, lift, bend, speak, breathe and read. According to Gardner’s complaint, WKU violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act for failing to provide or provide in a timely manner the necessary accommodations to her disability, and then retaliating against her requesting accommodations. Wilkins said she is comfortable that it will be found the university provided Gardner with more than adequate accommodations. Gardner’s attorney, Heidi Schissler Lanham from Protection and Advocacy, said she is under the legal opinion that Gardner’s needs have not been met or the suit would not have been filed. Schissler Lanham said they are asking for Gardner be awarded damages, attorney fees and that her client’s disabilities be accommodated as required by law. If the suit could be resolved through mediation, Schissler Lanham said she would welcome that option.

“My ultimate goal is to get the best deal for my client,” she said.

The matter remains pending before the court.