Former UK president Lee Todd testifies in sex-discrimination trial

Former University of Kentucky President Dr. Lee Todd
Former University of Kentucky President Dr. Lee Todd

Former University of Kentucky president Lee T. Todd Jr. was the first witness called Monday in a gender-discrimination trial that pits a female UK police department official against the university and others at the school.

Capt. Bobbye Carpenter, along with six other current or former female UK police officers, filed suit in Fayette Circuit Court in 2007, alleging discrimination. Since then, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine has divided the case, with separate trials involving each woman to be held.

Goodwine dismissed the case of one of the plaintiffs, Brenda Palmer. The case involving Carpenter is the first to be tried.

Carpenter has been an employee of the UK police department for nearly 37 years.

Todd told jurors about women who were hired into high positions at UK during his tenure and said one of the first things he did as UK president was to start a commission on the status of women at the university.

He said two female UK police officers, Lisa Blankenship (now Shuck) and Tiua Chilton, who were part of a security detail assigned to him, met with him to talk about problems in the UK police department in spring 2005. The two women also are plaintiffs in the 2007 suit.

Todd said Blankenship and Chilton were concerned about Joe Monroe, who was a finalist for the job of UK's police chief, getting the chief job because Monroe and male officers had gone to a strip club, and because of an incident in which Monroe fired his gun in a parking lot. The women also were concerned about work assignments under Monroe and favoritism, Todd said.

He said he thought the women were credible.

McDonald Vick of North Carolina Central University, not Monroe, got the job. But shortly afterward, news reports broke that Vick had paid off a former subordinate at NCCU who claimed that he sexually harassed her after the two had an affair. Vick's tenure at UK was short-lived.

Todd said a search firm had told UK officials that Vick was named in the NCCU sexual-harassment case only because he was the head of his department. Todd said UK kept Vick "until the next shoe dropped" — when UK found out that Vick had paid off the woman. Later, a survey of all UK police department employees about issues within the department and an investigation of the police department did not show discrimination to be a major issue, according to Todd and defense attorney Barbara Kriz.

Monroe, a defendant in the lawsuit, was named acting chief after Vick's departure and became chief in 2009. He still holds that position.

Carpenter's attorney, Robert Abell, in his opening statement, told jurors that testimony and evidence will show that there was a "frat house" atmosphere within the UK police department. He said Carpenter wasn't allowed to exercise leadership at work and that she was considered a "joke" by younger officers. He also said the 2006 investigation of the police department showed that there were real issues concerning fairness and equality in the department.

Kriz, in her opening statement, said Carpenter has never been the victim of discrimination at UK, that she has never been denied training, pay or benefits, and that she has never been subjected to retaliation. Kriz, who described Carpenter as a desk officer and not a street officer throughout her career, said Carpenter will say that she has never been interviewed for the police chief post, but Kriz said that Carpenter has never applied for that job.

Kriz said Carpenter also will say that duties were taken away from her but that she was temporarily relieved of her duties so she could help get the UK police department's budget under control, a task she agreed to do.

Kriz said that Monroe has "furthered and fostered" Carpenter in her career. As chief, Monroe made Carpenter director of hospital security at UK, a job in which she oversees more employees than Monroe does, she said.