The University of Kentucky will pay retired professor $620,000 in lawsuit settlement

A retired professor will get $620,000 and will be able to return to the University of Kentucky as part of a settlement to a lawsuit he filed alleging retaliation for criticizing Gov. Matt Bevin’s planned Medicaid rollback.

In the settlement filed shortly before the case was to go before a jury, UK did not admit that College of Dentistry Dean Stephanos Kyrkanides shut out long-time professor Raynor Mullins from his work. In the October opinion he wrote allowing Mullins a jury trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Weir called the case “the epic story of academic intrigue and the place of free speech.”

A joint statement issued with the Dec. 5 settlement stated: “Both parties have reached a settlement and desire to resolve their disputes in a positive manner. Just as important the resolution only serves to strengthen our shared commitment to the University of Kentucky’s mission and goals to improve health in the Commonwealth. Oral health and its relationships with overall health and well-bring are critically important issues that need and deserve our full commitment. We will have no further comment on this matter as we are united now in our intent to focus squarely on these shared goals moving forward.”

The payments will be spread out over time, with Mullins and his Lexington attorneys Joe Childers & Associates receiving $260,000 by Dec. 14, another $177,000 by Jan. 16, 2019, and $183,000 to be paid by Jan. 16, 2020.

In October, Weir ruled that a jury should decide if Kyrkanides had violated Mullins’ First Amendment rights. Mullins, 74, a 40-year veteran of dental public health who also worked at the UK Center for Oral Health Research, wrote a letter with four colleagues in July 2016 that were critical of the proposal to roll back parts of the Medicaid expansion made under the Affordable Care Act during former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

The waiver would have curtailed or eliminated dental benefits. According to legal documents, someone from Bevin’s administration called UK officials, who then expressed the administration’s displeasure to Kyrkanides.

The person who allegedly called UK has never been identified. When the lawsuit was filed in August, 2017, a Bevin spokeswoman denied the claims that anyone from Bevin’s office had pressured UK. A series of emails between UK officials and the governor’s office, all on personal Gmail accounts, alerted the governor to Mullins’ letter. But there was no evidence that the governor took any other action.

In numerous depositions filed in the case, Mullins’ colleagues testified that Kyrkanides’ attitude toward Mullins changed. Kyrkanides took Mullins off projects and caused dissension between Mullins and his colleagues. In January, 2017, Mullins was informed that his post-retirement appointment was finished because he had not secured more grant funding to support it.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Mullins will return to the university although the details are not yet final.

Bevin’s proposal would raise premiums and create job requirements for recipients of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which provided 400,000 people with insurance, reducing the state’s uninsured population from 20 percent to 7.5 percent. Bevin said the changes were necessary for financial sustainability.

In June, a federal judge in Washington, D.C, struck down the waiver, saying that Bevin’s plan to require work or volunteering in order to receive Medicaid benefits could harm some people by cutting off their health insurance. The waiver is now back with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for further review.

Bevin’s office has now received permission to try again starting in the spring, but that effort is also likely to face more lawsuits.