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Judgment entered in WVWC lawsuit

BUCKHANNON — Court records indicate a judgment has been entered against West Virginia Wesleyan College, after a former WVWC employee filed a lawsuit alleging gender and age discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2016, claiming Julia A. Keehner was paid significantly less in her role as vice president of student development than a young male colleague who later was hired for the same position.

According to a previous The Inter-Mountain report, Keehner began working for WVWC in September 2005 as vice president of student development, and as such, was a senior administrator at the college. In 2006, the college changed her role as vice president of student development and enrollment management, combining the previously separate duties of student development and student enrollment. The civil complaint claimed she remained a senior administrator after the change.

In July 2013, WVWC divided the job responsibilities of student development and student enrollment, duties that had been managed by Keehner as per her job description as vice president of development and enrollment management. The college opted to re-create the position of vice president of student development previously held by Keehner.

According to an amended version of the civil complaint, WVWC allegedly hired a younger man for the position as vice president of enrollment management and paid him $22,227 more annually than Keehner accrued while holding the same position. The male colleague had at least 10 fewer years experience than Keehner as a higher education employee, and unlike Keehner, had no prior experience as a vice president at an institute of high education, alleges the complaint.

The previous article reports that Keehner claimed she brought attention to salary inequities among male and female employees at the college at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year. Within months of claiming her observances, Keehner had certain duties removed from her and reassigned to another employee.

During a meeting in August 2015, former President Pamela Balch told Keehner the college had received hundreds of complaints about her, and in the same meeting told her there had been millions, according to the complaint. Keehner alleged Balch asked her if she wished to resign to spare further humiliation in light of the complaints against her. Keehner declined.

Because of the complaints Balch had claimed the college had received, Keehner asked Balch for a performance plan to address any issues raised by the purported complaints, however Balch provided neither details of the complaints or a performance plan.

According to the civil complaint, Keehner also stated WVWC failed to provide her with any form of notice regarding the grievances.

By August 2015, Keehner reported that the college had reduced her salary by approximately 25 percent. In the same month, WVWC’s new vice president of enrollment management informed Keehner that he’d been approached by the director of human resources and was asked to provide negative information regarding the plaintiff. The vice president of enrollment management said he did not have any negative information to provide, in which the director of human resources told him she was disappointed and had expected better cooperation, according to the previous report.

In the amended civil complaint, the vice president of enrollment management told Keehner he felt the HR director was on a “witch hunt” after Keehner.

In Oct. 2015, Ms. Balch’s husband approached Keehner at a WVWC gathering/event, and according to court documents told Keehner “he knows it has been a really rough fall for her.”

On or about May 12, 2016, WVWC deactivated Keehner’s access to her WVWC email, and at a meeting the same day, she was asked if she would like to resign. The complaint stated Keehner declined, which left her employment terminated without reason given. She was 60 years old at the time of her termination.

According to the complaint, Keehner and her family were asked to vacate their home, which was provided to her at no cost to her and her family as part of employment at WVWC.

The civil complaint also alleged that during Keehner’s time of employment, another male co-worker was paid $52,275 more than her for a part-time position, and other colleagues’ income also indicated the wage inequities.

Keehner was seeking judgment against WVWC for damages, including lost wages and benefits, back and front pay, damages in the form of the cost of housing she was provided during her employment, damages relative to compensation, inequities she suffered, damages for indignity and punitive damages, as well as interest, attorney fees and cost and any further relief deems by the court.

According to the judgment order, on Dec. 14, 2017 the court ordered in favor of Keehner, resulting in WVWC to pay $250,000.

The judgment order claimed causes of action against WVWC were based upon violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Acts, including gender discrimination, age discrimination, reprisals/retaliation and disability discrimination.

WVWC’s statement regarding the settlement reads, “Wesleyan strongly asserts that it did not act wrongfully or unlawfully in any manner related to the termination of Ms. Keehner’s employment. The cost of the settlement was paid entirely through insurance coverage and not through the financial resources of Wesleyan. By resolving this matter, the administration of West Virginia Wesleyan can now do what it should be and wishes to be doing, which is successfully operating the College in a manner that fully supports and assists its constituents, including its valued students.”

Keehner was represented by Matthew Hansberry of Hansberry Law Office and Rodney Smith of Bailess Smith PLLC.

In response to WVWC’s statement, Hansberry said, “However, the fact remains that a judgment was entered in favor of Ms. Keehner against West Virginia Wesleyan College in the case.

“And West Virginia Wesleyan College, through its ‘Offer of Judgment’ dated Nov. 28, 2017, offered to allow judgment to be taken against it by Ms. Keehner in the case.”

Hansberry continued, “Julie Keehner is someone who loved West Virginia Wesleyan College and its students. She poured her heart and her soul into both.

“While it is incredibly unfortunate that West Virginia Wesleyan College discriminated against Ms. Keehner, she is pleased with the final result in the case,” he added. “And importantly, she hopes that the judgment in this case will raise awareness and serve as a vehicle for positive change at West Virginia Wesleyan College.”

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