Suit alleging sexual harassment at Alltech is settled

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJune 1, 2012 

A lawsuit alleging sexual harassment against Nicholasville-based Alltech was quietly settled and dismissed in March, court documents show.

Last May, a former U.S. controller for Alltech sued the international feed supplements supplier, alleging that she endured years of sexual harassment by her former boss. Amanda Jo Wester alleged that top company officials ignored her complaints about pornographic emails and more by Eric Lanz, Alltech's director of the Americas at the time.

In Jessamine Circuit Court, Wester sued Alltech; Lanz; Alltech's founder and president, Thomas Pearse Lyons; and Nathan H. Hohman, Alltech's director and vice president of finance. Lanz, Alltech, Lyons and Hohman denied wrongdoing.

The case was dismissed in March, just before Wester's lawyers were poised to depose Lyons, Hohman, other Alltech executives and former employees.

Wester's attorney, Amy Johnson, said she and Wester would not comment on the case.

No details on any potential settlement have been made public.

According to court documents, Wester had informed Alltech on May 2, 2011, that she intended to file the lawsuit; Alltech said it would conduct an internal investigation.

On May 17, while the internal investigation was being conducted, Alltech emailed all its employees a new policy: a dispute-resolution program that would make arbitration mandatory.

The arbitration policy was made a condition of employment, and Alltech told Wester that it would retroactively apply to her sexual harassment claims. She would have to agree to the policy or leave the company, according to the court documents.

Wester left. Her last day at Alltech was May 20, 2011, the day the lawsuit was filed.

Alltech asked the court to dismiss the suit or send it to arbitration, which would have limited the amount of probing Wester's attorney could conduct into Alltech or Lanz's affairs.

But Jessamine Circuit Court denied both motions last fall. Alltech appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In the meantime, Alltech and the rest of the defendants wanted discovery to halt.

In addition to electronic records, Wester's attorney already had pressed for details about Lanz's past, including records of psychiatric treatment or counseling for sexually inappropriate or offensive behavior against Wester and at least five other named women, "including but not limited to issues with sexual boundaries, harassing or demeaning conduct and/or thoughts about women, and relationships with women who are or were employed by Alltech Inc.," according to court documents.

In November, Wester and Lanz reached an agreement that was approved by the court, and all claims against him were dismissed. No details were made public.

According to the lawsuit, Lanz had submitted his resignation to Alltech on May 6, 2011, but he continued to work with the company on specific projects.

In December, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Jessamine Circuit Court, saying that Wester did not voluntarily waive her right to sue and that there was no valid agreement to arbitration.

The court also had granted a motion to compel discovery. Wester's attorney requested dates after Jan. 15 to depose Lyons, Hohman, payroll and benefits manager Angie Forester, and Alltech attorney Michael Cox, plus at least eight former Alltech employees who were not named in the court documents.

On Jan. 5, Johnson filed a motion for contempt to force the company to set dates to begin turning over documents requested, in some cases, since June.

A hearing on the motion was scheduled for Jan. 12, but Johnson withdrew it three days before and it was "not to be re-docketed."

By March, Wester and Alltech had come to an agreement, and the case was dismissed with prejudice.

Alltech spokeswoman Susanna Elliott said Thursday: "We respectfully decline further comment on a case that was dismissed a few months ago."

She said that Lanz no longer is affiliated with Alltech in any capacity.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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