Lawsuits to continue next year

Tessa Duvall

As WKU students begin to wrap things up for the semester, the university is still dealing with several ongoing civil suits.

Elizabeth Esters vs. WKU

Elizabeth Esters, a former staff assistant to President Gary Ransdell and secretary to the Board of Regents, filed a civil suit against WKU in October 2009, claiming she was forced into early retirement.

WKU maintains that Esters retired voluntarily.

Esters says the university breached the terms of her contract.

Deborah Wilkins, chief of staff and general counsel, said Esters didn’t have a contract and was an at-will employee. Because of her at-will status, she could be terminated at any time.

The suit is currently pending at trial court level, and no trial date has been set.

Gina Brown vs. WKU

Gina Brown, former director of development for Athletics, filed a civil suit against WKU in March 2010, claiming she was subjected to unwelcome harassment as a black female employee.

Brown, who was fired in January 2009, also claims she was treated unfairly based on her gender, race and age.

According to a document provided by WKU, the university denies the allegations of wrongdoing.

Wilkins said Brown was fired due to poor job performance.

“She simply wasn’t performing up to the requirements of the position,” she said.

Brown is seeking damages, but the amount is unknown, Wilkins said.

The case is currently in the discovery phase, and a trial date has not been set.

Raymond Elms vs. WKU

Raymond Elms, a former desktop support specialist in Information Technology, filed charges against WKU on Nov. 9, saying he was fired on the basis of age discrimination.

Elms, a WKU employee of 27 years, was fired from his job in October, according to court documents.

Wilkins said Elms was fired because of his excessive use of a cell phone provided by the university, which incurred an expense to WKU.

Matthew Baker, Elms’ attorney, said Elms, 48, was a member of a protected class under Kentucky law, and age discrimination seemed to be the clear motive for his termination.

WKU also saw the end of two ongoing civil suits this semester.

Junlian Zhang vs. WKU

A jury ruled in favor of WKU on Sept. 30 in the case of Junlian Zhang, a former researcher for the Institute for Combustion Sciences and Environmental Technology, who sued the university on grounds of pregnancy discrimination.

The university was able to successfully prove to the jury, which delivered a nine-to-three verdict, that Zhang’s history of job performance issues was the reason she was terminated.

The verdict came after a three-day trial at the Warren County Justice Center.

WKU vs. Clark, et al.

The trial to determine the value of the home of Howard Brown Clark Jr. on 1627 Normal Drive was set to take place Nov. 23 and 24, but the university and Clark reached an agreement the week before the trial began.

Wilkins said Clark agreed to take the $204,000 WKU had already paid into the court.

The legal dispute began in 2008 when the university used eminent domain to acquire the Clark home for the new Ransdell College of Education building.