Special Reports

Judge dismisses discrimination, defamation claims by former Lexington library CEO

A Fayette Circuit Court judge has thrown out former Lexington Public Library chief executive Kathleen Imhoff's claims that she was discriminated against due to her gender and defamed following the termination of her employment in 2009.

However, Imhoff's third claim — that her employment contract was violated — still stands. She is seeking two years of salary and benefits she is owed under her employment contract, which was terminated without cause two years before it expired, said Richard Getty, Imhoff's attorney.

Imhoff made the claims in a lawsuit filed in Fayette Circuit Court about a year after she was dismissed from her position following Herald-Leader articles and a city audit that detailed more than $130,000 in questionable spending of public funds. She named the library board of trustees and its former chairman, Lawrence Smith, individually, as defendants.

Judge Thomas Clark ruled Wednesday that the library board and Smith were shielded from being sued for defamation under the legal concept of "sovereign immunity." Imhoff's claim of gender discrimination was thrown out because "she is unable to identify evidence sufficient to support a finding that the Library Board treated her less favorably than a similarly situated male employee," the order says.

Clark has previously issued a ruling in the defendants' favor ordering the breach of contract claim to be settled out of court through arbitration. During arbitration, both parties will select a third party to examine the issue and make a ruling, which the parties would have to abide by.

Getty said he had just read Clark's order Wednesday and had not decided whether he would appeal the dismissal of the defamation and discrimination claims.

But the breach of contract claim was always the heart of the lawsuit, he said, and arbitration can proceed on that claim now that the judge has dismissed the other two, he said.

"It's been close to a year that we've been waiting for this ruling," Getty said. "We wanted everything to be arbitrated at once and not have to go through two arbitration proceedings."

Getty said Imhoff would also consider mediation rather than arbitration if the library board's attorneys were agreeable. Mediation would allow the attorneys to hire their own third party whose ruling would be non-binding.

"If we can avoid the cost of arbitration proceedings, we would be open to mediation," Getty said.

Mediation has failed in the past, but without the defamation and discrimination claims, "it's just a matter of interpretation of the contract, which is clear-cut," he said.