Education

Former official sues UK, claiming discrimination when she was treated for breast cancer

A former director of development for the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts has sued the university and the dean of the college, claiming she was subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation stemming from her treatment for breast cancer.

Jeanne Suchanek, who says she "involuntarily resigned" from her job on April 25, 2009, filed the suit earlier this month in Franklin Circuit Court.

Suchanek is seeking damages for lost income and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and legal expenses, including attorney fees, among other things.

Suchanek, who lives in Franklin County, began working at UK full-time in 1998 as the College of Fine Arts' development director, according to the suit. All job performance evaluation ratings she received before 2006 indicated she exceeded expectations in her work, she maintains. She says that she had not been the subject of formal disciplinary actions or reprimands; had received merit raises; and had received commendations from several people, including UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

But a year or so after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Suchanek's job performance ratings began to decline, she maintains. Suchanek underwent a lumpectomy in September 2005, followed by radiation and hormone treatment. She says in the suit the cancer and treatment left her with extreme fatigue and a suppressed immune system that limited her ability to work with groups.

Suchanek's attorney, Mary W. Stoddard, said Suchanek is now working for a company, doing the same type of work she did at UK. Stoddard also said her client is still under a doctor's care for all health concerns mentioned in the lawsuit. Suchanek maintains in the suit that she developed several medical problems because of the way she was treated on the job.

"UK is a large institution that many people are somewhat intimidated by in trying to seek restitution for their concerns," Stoddard said.

UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton declined to comment because it's an ongoing legal matter.

Suchanek says in the suit that in early 2007 she got a handwritten performance evaluation for 2006 "expressing diminished quality of work because of her recovery from breast cancer." She later got an adjusted evaluation in which she was rated a little higher than in the previous one.

In a February 2008 discussion of her performance evaluation for 2007, she says, her immediate supervisor, Robert Shay, the dean of the College of Fine Arts, told her he had received complaints from department chairs. Suchanek says she met with the department chairs and was told they had no complaints about her performance.

Later, she says, Shay began isolating Suchanek and not telling her about fund-raising meetings with prospective donors, and stopped communicating verbally with her after instances in which he intimidated her by slamming his fist on his desk, aggressively pointing his finger and raising his voice to her, she says. Suchanek says Shay also created performance improvement plans for her that included arbitrary goals that no other development directors at UK were required to meet.

Suchanek says she became so distressed she got chest pains and high blood pressure, lost her appetite and lost sleep. She also became depressed. She had to seek medical treatment for emotional distress, she says.

At meetings with Shay and a representative of the UK human resources department in March and April 2009, Suchanek was threatened with losing her job for using too much sick time if she did not answer evaluation questions the way they wanted, she says.

Among other things, Suchanek claims that the defendants violated the federal Family Medical Leave Act, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act and the Kentucky Equal Opportunity Act.

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