Her lawsuit over the top job on a Kentucky university board may cost her more clout

Former Kentucky State University Board of Regents Chair Karen Bearden listened during a board meeting.
Former Kentucky State University Board of Regents Chair Karen Bearden listened during a board meeting. Courtesy Frankfort State Journal

A court case in which the former chairwoman of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents sued the school, its current board chair and faculty members for defamation has been dismissed.

The case could lead to the removal of Karen Bearden from the oversight board of the university.

On Thursday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate dismissed a lawsuit that alleged members of the KSU Faculty Senate started a campaign to have Bearden removed as chairwoman by accusing her in electronic communications of being “engaged in an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a former Kentucky State University President.”

The suit also alleged current Board of Regents Chairwoman Elaine Farris and former KSU Faculty Senate President Kim Sipes publicly and falsely accused her of “improperly influencing” the presidential search.

According to court records, it was determined that “sovereign immunity” bars Bearden’s suit against KSU. Likewise, qualified official immunity bars Bearden’s claims against the individual defendants employed by KSU.

Also, Bearden failed to comply with a Kentucky pleading standard, which includes “(a) a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief and (b) a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitles.”

She also failed to state a claim for defamation, for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for harassment and intimidation and hostile environment, according to the ruling.

On the same day that the case was dismissed, the KSU Board of Regents voted on a resolution that stated the lawsuit may be cause for Bearden’s removal because it created an impermissible conflict of interest.

According to state law, once the Board of Regents notifies the Council on Postsecondary Education that a member should be removed, the member has seven days to resign or provide evidence to the council that his or her conduct does not warrant removal.

Within 30 days of receiving the notice, the Council of Postsecondary Education must review the written notice, investigate the member and make a recommendation to the governor of whether the member should be removed. If Gov. Matt Bevin decides to remove the member, he will notify the member, the board, the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Legislative Research Commission.

If Bevin decides to remove the member, he must do so by executive order and appoint a new member.

Bearden was first appointed to the Board of Regents in 2004 by former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. She was reappointed in 2013 by former Gov. Steve Beshear. She served as chair from 2012 to 2017, and her term ends in 2019.