KSU pedway hole

(Chanda Veno | State Journal)

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd held strong on the merits of considering a case against Kentucky State University for firing a whistleblower who complained of alleged sexual harassment of students by former university officials. 

The judge ruled against the university’s motion to reconsider dismissal of a lawsuit filed for wrongful termination, which alleges that former assistant director of Student Support Services Xavier Dillard was fired for complaining about a KSU administrator and a coach sexually harassing students, on Monday.

The university, in its responses to the lawsuit, claims that Dillard violated a federal law by including the students’ names in a mass email sent to KSU administration, then-Gov. Matt Bevin, as well as state and national media outlets. 

Shepherd ruled that the Dillard did not violate the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) because the students consented to disclosing their stories, and their consent was confirmed in writing and that there are still questions about the nature of Dillard’s termination.

“Even if the Court accepted KSU’s legal argument that the Plaintiff violated FERPA, there would still be a disputed issue of material fact over the question of whether the FERPA violation was the genuine motive for the Plaintiff’s firing, or whether the FERPA violation was merely a pretext to cover up the true motive of retaliation against Plaintiff for disclosing the alleged misconduct of the KSU Administrators,” Shepherd said.

He said that the circumstances eliminated “any legitimate claims that the disclosures violated FERPA.”

One of the students Dillard consulted was Miyache Ashworth, who already complained of sexual harassment from her softball coaches publicly on social media in 2017. The other is filing suit under the pseudonym "John Doe," alleging harassment by former KSU director of admissions Justin Mathis.

Mathis is identified as allegedly insisting that he and Doe sleep in the same room during a school trip to Washington, D.C., and later making sexual comments that led the student to complain to the university. The perpetrator moved on to work in admissions in Georgia, resigned from KSU shortly after Doe’s mother called KSU President M. Christopher Brown II directly — five months after Doe started complaining to the university in 2017, per the lawsuit.

Shepherd initially ruled against KSU’s motion to dismiss in May. The latest denial means that both parties will schedule a final pretrial conference as well as a potential trial date.

KSU has been in the news of late for several lawsuits it's facing, including Dillard’s.

The lawsuits range from a now-settled complaint alleging that Brown “improperly interfered” in the bidding process for a student dining contract to one that alleged that Brown used crude or offensive language to refer to women’s appearance to a woman claiming she was fired for expressing ethical concerns to her bosses about the school allegedly misusing federal funds and admitting unqualified students “to increase the numbers.”

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