Suit filed by former employee: Elms accuses WKU of age discrimination

Tessa Duvall

A former WKU employee who claims he was fired on the basis of age discrimination filed wrongful termination charges against the university in November.

In October, Raymond Elms, a former desktop support specialist in Information Technology, was fired from his job after 27 years, according to court documents.

Deborah Wilkins, WKU’s chief of staff and general counsel, said Elms’ termination was because of his excessive use of a cell phone provided by the university.

Matthew Baker, Elms’ attorney, said he doesn’t believe WKU’s reason for termination.

“I find that hard to believe for the simple reason that everybody I know has a cell phone,” Baker told the Herald. “And that people take calls on their cell phone and do so throughout the day. And most people that I know do so without fear of repercussions.”

Elms, age 48, was a member of a protected class under Kentucky law, Baker said.

According to Kentucky Revised Statutes 344.040, 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.

Baker said Elms is reaching the age where he could consider retiring and getting retirement benefits.

“We don’t put a lot of stock in the reason that Western says that it let him go,” he said. “I think age discrimination is clear.”

Wilkins said age had nothing to do with Elms’ termination.

During a routine audit of employee telephone usage, officials found that in a period of six months, Elms had made 218 long-distance phone calls, which occurred at an expense to WKU, Wilkins said.

Elms also sent 5,687 text messages to a personal friend during work hours in a five-month period, she said.

The phone usage during work hours, in conjunction with some job performance issues, led to Elms’ termination, Wilkins said.

“We’re comfortable that the decision made met all legal requirements,” she said.

Wilkins said Elms’ supervisor brought the matter to the attention of Bob Owen, vice president for Information Technology, who then made the recommendation to fire Elms.

As with all firings, the recommendation was reviewed by Wilkins and Tony Glisson, director of Human Resources, she said.

The recommendation was found to be justified, and Elms was fired in October 2010, she said.

According to court documents, Elms is seeking compensatory damages for lost pay, retirement and benefits, as well as punitive damages.

Baker said Elms is unemployed and would consider talking to WKU about getting his job back if that were put on the table.

A trial date has not yet been set.