Fayette County

‘Made him a fall guy.’ Ex-lab official sues Equestrian Federation over firing in horse-doping case

The U.S. Equestrian Federation offices are located at the Kentucky Horse Park. A new building is expected to be completed at the park in 2019, according to the federation.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation offices are located at the Kentucky Horse Park. A new building is expected to be completed at the park in 2019, according to the federation. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

The former laboratory director for the U.S. Equestrian Federation says in a lawsuit that he was made “a scapegoat” when he was fired over the lab’s handling of a horse-doping investigation.

Cornelius Uboh claims defamation and breach of contract in a suit filed against the federation last week in Fayette Circuit Court. The federation said through a spokesman Tuesday that it does not comment on pending litigation. The organization is the national governing body for equestrian sport in the country, overseeing 18 disciplines, such as dressage and jumping.

The federation, based in Lexington at the Kentucky Horse Park, operates a drug-testing lab for analysis of blood samples to protect horses from drug abuse and prevent horse owners from cheating.

Uboh, born in Nigeria and a naturalized U.S. citizen, says he was the first African-American and the first black person of foreign birth to hold the lab director’s position when he was hired in 2016. His base salary was $200,000 a year.

But he was terminated in early 2018 when it was learned the lab made errors in the handling of a blood sample in the case involving hunter-jumper professional rider Kelley Farmer and trainer Larry Glefke.

Farmer and Glefke were initially fined and suspended in 2017 after a sample from Farmer’s horse tested positive for a prohibited substance. Glefke was fined $24,000 and was suspended 24 months for the violation; Farmer got an $18,000 fine and an 18-month suspension.

But last year, USEF said it found a breach in the handling procedures of the test samples and voided the suspensions and penalties against Farmer and Glefke.

In the suit, Uboh says he was not responsible for test results in dispute in the Glefke/Farmer case “because the samples were collected before he was hired.” Uboh also alleges the federation ignored his objections to testing of a sample that, he says, disregarded national and international drug-testing regulations and protocol, including those of the International Olympics Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The suit says the federation falsely accused Uboh of “concealing the test information and made him a fall guy.”

Those actions, in turn, defamed Uboh and “effectively destroyed his professional reputation,” the suit says.

The federation and its lawyer “were fully aware” of a breach in the sample testing but “chose not to disclose the breach to opposing counsel or the tribunal in the course of its prosecution” of Glefke and Farmer, the suit says.

“The USEF and its counsel needed someone to blame once the information in their possession concerning the breach became known to opposing counsel,” the suit says.

Faced with those circumstances, the federation dropped charges against Glefke and Farmer.

“As a newly hired minority laboratory director,” Uboh “became a convenient scapegoat for USEF’s decision to take these actions,” the suit says.

The suit says the federation “knowingly and falsely accused” Uboh of manipulating and/or concealing data and testifying falsely at the hearing for Glefke and Farmer. The federation’s in-house attorney and a quality assurance officer were aware of the mishandling of the blood sample and the retesting results “from the time they occurred,” the suit says.

Uboh took issue with a letter that USEF President Murray Kessler wrote to the federation’s membership. Kessler wrote that the federation’s lawyer did not learn of the testing mistake until it was disclosed by opposing counsel.

“This is an outright lie,” the suit says. The suit says a representative of Sonja Keating, executive vice president and general counsel for the federation, was present in the lab when the testing error occurred. A quality assurance officer was present as well.

In addition, the suit says three months’ severance pay is “unacceptable” to Uboh and violates the terms of his employment agreement.

Kessler, Keating, federation Chief Executive Officer William Moroney and Dr. Kent Allen, chairman of the federation’s veterinary committee, are named as defendants.

Uboh seeks a trial by jury, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and any other relief to which he is entitled.