Two Very Different Legal Stories from Higher Ed in Kentucky

The first of these stories seems to illustrate the potentially terrible consequences of abusing one’s position and violating one’s professional responsibilities. The second seems to suggest that there are ways to avoid such consequences.

The first story was written by Cliff Peale for the Cincinnati Enquirer [http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/courts/2014/04/17/former-nku-athletic-directoreaton-going-to-jail/7818507/]. It concerns the guilty plea entered and the ten-year prison sentence accepted by the former athletic director at Northern Kentucky University, Scott Eaton.

In March 2013, Eaton was dismissed from his position after he acknowledged having engaged in inappropriate relationships with four university employees and one student at the university.

Subsequently, the university discovered that Eaton has misappropriated $311,215 from the university’s budget for athletics.

Eaton will be required to repay the misappropriated funds, and although he will be eligible for parole after serving two years of his sentence, his parole will be contingent upon his efforts to make restitution.

The university has indicated that Eaton’s inappropriate relationships were consensual and that they were linked to the legal case only in the sense that some of the misappropriated funds were directed towards sustaining the relationships. Moreover, the investigation into Eaton’s financial improprieties was apparently initiated by a tip from one of the women involved in the relationships with him.

Eaton had previously been commended by the university administration for leading NKU’s transition into Division I athletics.

Although Eaton’s defense attorney has asserted that his sentence is excessive, the district attorney argued that the amount of money that Eaton misappropriated was the equivalent of one year’s tuition costs for about 40 students.

The second story was written by Andrew Wolfson for the Louisville Courier-Journal [http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2014/04/18/university-louisville-pays-k-settlement/7879345/]. He reports on the University of Louisville’s agreement to pay $346,844 as part of a separation agreement with the university’s Chief Counsel, Angela Koshewa, on her retirement from her position.

The university has recently paid three other top administrators the equivalent of a year’s salary to induce them to sign similar separation agreements at the time they retired. The separation agreements insure that the former administrators will not “disparage, demean, or impugn the university or its senior leadership” after they have retired. Given the fiscal constraints facing almost all colleges and universities, these separation agreements have quite predictably raised eyebrows, especially since university had not previously made such agreements with retiring top administrators.

Koshewa’s separation agreement in particular aroused curiosity because it amounted to twice her annual salary and because several university officials, who have declined to be named, have asserted that she had expressed concerns to the university’s president, James Ramsey, about “’expenditures, real estate deals, and university compliance issues.’”

Very predictably, a spokesperson for the university administration has taken pains to point out that the funding for these separation agreements has come from unencumbered private contributions that can be used for any purpose.

Beyond the terms of the separation agreement, Koshewa responded to reporters’ questions by stating simply that whatever occurred between her and the university administration is protected by attorney-client confidentiality. Nonetheless, a university spokesperson acknowledged that the administration did have a “desire to settle . . . any and all possible claims and differences” between it and Koshewa.

To provide a broader context for understanding the implications of separation agreements, Wolfson seems to closely paraphrase Louisville labor attorney Irwin Cutler, Jr.’s observation that “businesses usually offer such severance payments to avoid potential whistleblower suits or claims of age, race or gender discrimination.”

 

 

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