Kentucky State University has paid $500,000 to settle two lawsuits by terminated employees under the administration of former President Mary Sias.
Through an open-records request, The State Journal acquired the settlement amounts for former campus police chief Stephanie Bastin and former Student Life director Leslie Thomas. The cases had limped along in Franklin Circuit Court for almost four years, and both were settled within hours of going to trial.
KSU settled the suit with Bastin in February, one day before trial in Franklin Circuit Court. Bastin had filed a lawsuit against the university’s board of regents three years ago for alleged racial discrimination and whistle-blowing retaliation when she was terminated in 2013.
Sias hired Bastin on Jan. 4, 2008, to replace KSU police chief Donnie Turner, who worked at the university for 22 years before leaving for unknown reasons. Bastin was replaced by Belinda Baker, who reportedly almost cost the KSU police department $3,100 in annual funding from the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund.
Baker, instead of being named chief, was assigned to a new position as director of university safety and security affairs. Legal counsel for the Department of Criminal Justice Training told Sias in a letter that if KSU allowed Baker to “act as chief of police,” the department would lose its funding, because Baker wasn’t a sworn police officer in Kentucky.
Thomas was fired in 2013 after 25 years at the university. She filed her lawsuit four years ago, citing discrimination and wrongful termination and naming Sias and Lorenzo Esters, vice president of student success and enrollment management. Both were named in Bastin’s suit.
Thomas’ termination prompted students to protest at Hume Hall and the student center and to create the social media hashtag #justiceformrsthomas, demanding answers about why she was let go. Students also started a petition at Moveon.org asking the governor to investigate KSU’s administration.
At the time, Thomas held a news conference and said she worked under seven supervisors in 25 years with no problems, but that changed once she worked under Esters.
Just minutes before a jury trial in March, attorneys told Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that they had come to an agreement. Sias and Esters declined to comment after the hearing. Thomas said only thatshe was glad it was over.
In April, motions were filed on behalf of Thomas and Bastin to enforce the settlement and attorney fees, but neither KSU’s counsel nor Robert Abell, who represented Thomas and Bastin, appeared in court.
According to copies of the checks obtained in an open-records request, Bastin and Thomas each received $125,000 last month through the university’s insurance companies. Abell was awarded $250,000 in attorney fees for both settlements.
KSU has eight pending lawsuits in Franklin Circuit Court.
KSU spokeswoman Diane Hawkins and KSU general counsel Gordon Rowe were contacted for comment on the settlements. Hawkins said the university wouldn’t comment.