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KSU settles discrimination, retaliation lawsuit with former police chief

Kentucky State University avoided a trial and settled a lawsuit with former campus Police Chief Stephanie Bastin for an undisclosed amount of money.

Bastin filed a lawsuit against the university’s Board of Regents three years ago for alleged racial discrimination and whistleblowing retaliation when they terminated her in 2013. The case was set for trial Monday, but according to KSU attorney William Johnson, the parties settled out of court.

Johnson wouldn’t disclose the details of the settlement, but he said they would be worked on in the next 30 days.

Bastin had also filed lawsuits against former KSU President Mary Sias and Lorenzo Esters, vice president of student success and enrollment management. Those suits were dismissed last month.

Court depositions indicated Bastin had a strained relationship with Esters. According to her deposition, Bastin said Esters denied a budget request for new police vehicles, and despite a shortage of campus police officers, she had concerns that Esters wouldn’t allow her to hire a candidate for a campus police position because he was white.

In his own deposition, Esters denied the discrimination charge, saying he wanted a more diverse pool of campus police candidates and there were other candidates he knew of whom Bastin didn’t consider.

Citing her frustrations with Esters to KSU Human Resources Director Gary Meiseles, Bastin filed grievances against Esters on the same day her employment was terminated. Meiseles’ deposition included that he was aware of Bastin’s concerns but that the decision to fire her came weeks before she filed her grievances against Esters.

According to an order on Jan. 31 by Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, Bastin asserted personal liability by Sias and Esters as a result of KSU’s alleged discriminatory termination of her employment. Wingate ruled no evidence existed to indicate Sias and Esters acted outside of the scope of their job duties for the university.

Former KSU police officer Tiua Chilton, who also served as the university’s interim campus police chief twice, was notified Saturday the case had been settled. Chilton was scheduled to testify during the trial had it occurred.

Chilton served as the interim campus police chief from April 2013 to August 2013, when the university hired former Paducah Police Chief James Berry. Chilton served as the interim police chief again after Berry left, from July 2014 until Dec. 1, 2014, when she was terminated by the university. Chilton was terminated on the same day as former KSU police officer Sirrethia Fox, who also has a pending lawsuit against the university.

Bastin and Chilton are two of a string of police chiefs who have come and gone quickly from the university in the last nine years.

Bastin was hired on Jan. 4, 2008, replacing KSU Police Chief Donnie Turner, who worked at the university for 22 years before leaving for unknown reasons. Bastin was replaced by Belinda Baker, who reportedly almost cost the KSU police department $3,100 in annual funding from the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund.

Baker, instead of being named chief, was assigned to a new position at KSU as director of university safety and security affairs. Legal counsel for the Department of Criminal Justice Training told Sias in a letter that if KSU allowed Baker to “act as chief of police,” the department would lose its funding as Baker wasn’t a sworn police officer in the state of Kentucky.

Baker was terminated on March 31, 2013, and was replaced by Berry in July 2013. Berry left and was replaced by Chilton in 2014. Currently, George Baker serves as KSU’s director of public safety, and Doug Brennaman is listed as the campus chief of police.

Another pending lawsuit against the university may go to trial next month. Former KSU Director of Student Life Leslie Thomas was fired in 2013, prompting students to protest both at Hume Hall and the student center and to create the social media hashtag #justiceformrsthomas demanding answers about her termination. Students also started a petition at Moveon.org for the governor to investigate KSU’s administration.

At the time, Thomas held a press conference and said she worked under seven different supervisors in 25 years with no issues, but that changed once she worked under Esters and Jacqueline Gibson, assistant vice president of student success and enrollment management.

Thomas is represented by the same attorney involved in the Bastin case, Robert Abell, who did not return requests for comment.

Thomas has cited discrimination and wrongful termination, naming Sias, Esters, KSU’s board of regents and Gibson in her initial lawsuit filed in 2013.

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