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Archive for Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Baker University asks judge to dismiss former professor’s case

December 2, 2009

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Baker University officials have asked a federal judge to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit that a former adjunct professor — once the university’s highest-paid employee — filed earlier this year.

A Baker attorney says that plaintiff Russell W. Pieken failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the university’s employee benefit plans.

Defense attorneys also argue it was unlikely Pieken was fired in 2008 for asking about why he could not attain employee benefits because Pieken also said he “inquired about eligibility for benefits for almost 10 years.”

“Plaintiff’s legal conclusion that his discharge was motivated by an intent to interfere with employee benefits protected by (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA) or in retaliation for exercising his ERISA rights is not supported by factual allegations,” wrote attorney Shelley A. Runion, in a court filing. “There are many reasons that a person can be terminated from employment.”

Pieken, of Kansas City, Mo., filed the lawsuit in September in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., alleging he was denied benefits, such as health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation and sick time, and not given an explanation why.

Pieken started as an adjunct faculty member in 1987. Between 1999 and 2008, he taught numerous courses in Baker’s School of Graduate and Professional Education, and he was responsible for building multiple graduate education programs.

Baker officials have said Pieken worked as a consultant who assisted with restructuring the graduate school. According to Baker’s tax filing for June 30, 2005, his compensation was listed at $200,904 for work in internal development and as a design consultant for secondary education programming at 70 hours per week.

Pieken is seeking damages, including back pay, front pay and lost benefits from Baker, which has its main campus in Baldwin City.

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