Special Reports

Fired chief sues Lexington Public Library for millions in damages

Kathleen Imhoff, the former chief executive of the Lexington Public Library, is suing the library for more than $5 million in damages one year after she was fired.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court, Imhoff alleges that she was fired in violation of her employment contract, that she was defamed and no longer can find professional work, and that she was discriminated against because she is a woman.

She names the library board of trustees and its chairman, Larry Smith, individually, as defendants.

The board's actions "have created a cloud over Ms. Imhoff's reputation," according to the suit.

"Ms. Imhoff has applied for more than 17 positions with libraries across the nation" since she was fired, according to the suit. "Ms. Imhoff's experience and education more than qualified her for each such position, however, she has not received a single interview."

The library fired Imhoff after the Herald-Leader detailed more than $134,000 she had spent on travel, meals, gifts and other items over five years, with little oversight. A city audit in December raised more questions about library spending and reported that 1,522 images of "adult materials" — either nudity or sex acts — were found on a library computer assigned to Imhoff, in violation of library policy.

Imhoff has denied viewing adult images on the computer, which she took home with her for work duties, and said someone else evidently used it for that purpose without her knowledge.

Smith, who is scheduled to step down this month as library board chairman, said Wednesday after a board meeting that Imhoff's claims are groundless.

"I'm confident that Ms. Imhoff was neither defamed nor discriminated against," Smith said. "I'm confident that the board was entitled to terminate her as it did. I'm confident that she is not entitled to any damages."

Imhoff and her attorney attended the board meeting and offered to speak to the board in private about her lawsuit, but the board declined.

In a news release, Imhoff said she had hoped she would not have to sue. She said she "truly regrets that the matter was not resolved out of court and wants the public to know that she did everything possible to avoid filing the present litigation."

Imhoff, who was hired in 2003, threatened to sue last year unless the library paid her $137,035 annual salary and benefits for the remaining two years of her employment contract. Attempts at mediation failed.

She also filed a gender discrimination complaint against the library with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that her male predecessor was treated better when he retired. Her attorney, Richard Getty, said the EEOC has issued her a right-to-sue letter.

In her suit, Imhoff said the library board approved all of her expenses questioned by the newspaper stories and never mentioned any spending problems to her until it fired her without cause. The subsequent city audit was flawed and failed to include her responses on several points, despite her offering to work with the library board on the library's written response, Imhoff said in her suit.

Smith individually defamed her by telling reporters last July, after she was fired, that the forthcoming city audit might provide some answers about her termination, Imhoff said in her suit.

"The words of the board's chairman, Mr. Smith, imputed fraud, dishonesty or sharp unethical practices to Imhoff that prejudiced or injured her professional reputation and are actionable," Imhoff said in her suit. "Imhoff demanded a retraction of such statements and an apology by Mr. Smith and the board, but both refused to comply with her request."

During the library board meeting, Smith said the search continues for Imhoff's replacement. The board has selected six semifinalists for interviews later this month and expects to bring in two or three finalists for public forums in August, he said.

Most of the library's $14 million budget comes from Fayette County property taxes. The library board, which is appointed by the mayor, has ordered two rounds of budget cuts in the last year to cope with flat tax revenue and rising expenses.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader