Archive for Monday, October 19, 2009

Highly compensated Baker employee files lawsuit against school

October 19, 2009


A man once listed as Baker University’s highest-compensated employee has filed a federal lawsuit alleging wrongful termination in 2008.

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

According to the lawsuit, filed Sept. 23 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., 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 was responsible for building multiple graduate education programs.

The lawsuit alleges that Pieken was routinely scheduled to teach a class load that was “often significantly greater than many of the other regular full-time Baker faculty members.” In the suit Pieken also alleges that he was denied benefits, such as health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation and sick time, and not given an explanation why.

“Baker’s discharge of Mr. Pieken was motivated by an intent to interfere with employee benefits protected by the (Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA) and in retaliation for exercising rights to which he is entitled under provision of an employee benefit plan and ERISA,” Pieken’s attorney David Porter wrote in the lawsuit.

According to Pieken’s lawsuit, Baker University Provost Randy Pembrook ended Pieken’s employment in January 2008 and eliminated his adjunct teaching role in May 2008. Pieken alleges that Pembrook gave him no reason for the termination and did not advise him of any complaints about his work.

According to Baker’s tax filings for June 30, 2005, Pieken’s 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. Of the top five employees listed, Pieken is the only one who had no contributions to an employee benefit plan.

That same year, Dan Lambert, Baker’s president at the time, had a salary of $179,249, and $18,842 in benefits.

On Monday, Porter did not return a call seeking comment.

Baker spokesman Steve Rottinghaus said Pieken had served as an adjunct professor and an independent contractor working as a consultant, who assisted with restructuring Baker’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies.

Rottinghaus on Monday said the university would not comment on the pending litigation.


Rick Aldrich 8 years, 3 months ago


bruceanderson01 8 years, 3 months ago

This makes my blood boil! This jackass took off Baker for hundreds of thousands of dollars and now, when he's finally been busted and sent off, he tries to come back for more! Horrible. If ever there was an argument for stopping greed in the courthouse, this is one. My hope is that the jury looks at the merits of this case and sends him off to the salt mines with no other tools than his tears.

parrothead8 8 years, 3 months ago

It's not like he "took" the university for this money. An adjunct faculty member is usually on a short-term, temporary contract. The school usually has all the power as far as how much the adjunct gets paid, because there are many people out there who want the job.

Baker contracted with him to go above and beyond the normal duties of a faculty member (and as an adjunct...not eligible for tenure) to teach more classes and build programs. He did what they asked. Why they decided to pay him $200k is beyond me, but he would have been a fool to turn down that offer.

Where I disagree with him is that he knew for 20 years he wasn't getting benefits. Why didn't he do something about it 10, 15, 20 years ago? It's not like he was asked to leave and only figured out on that day that he didn't have any benefits. Alas, no benefits is the usual life for an adjunct faculty member.

Hoots 8 years, 3 months ago

"Pieken had served as an adjunct professor and an independent contractor working as a consultant" Sounds like he was an independant contractor in most ways. This is how my job works and you are guaranteed nothing. This is probably why Baker didn't include him on insurance or any other benefit program. Being he was paid more than anyone else he could well afford to buy these things on his own like I have to.

igby 8 years, 3 months ago

He'll win this case because regardless of how Baker had him classified, he worked, taught, administrated, and did all the functions of a tenure track professor and administrated . The federal law is intended to force employers to be fair about their labor practices. Contractors are hired for specific contract duties. Baker, loaded this guy up with all the duties of a professor and then some. Baker wanted to get their monies worth out of him and 70 hours per week is prof enough that any federal jury will not only see Baker as a law breaker but an abuser of the federal employment guild lines.

This should of never happen to begin with. A small college, trying to cut cost should never demand this kind of service from one person. He is entitled to be treated as an employee when amounts are paid to one person that exceed the federal guild lines. This amount is what determines a contractor from employee.

gccs14r 8 years, 3 months ago

If he was a contractor, there should have been a signed contract. The employment provisions would be spelled out in that document. End of story. Besides, he should have been thrilled to make $200k as an adjunct/contractor. Ask KU adjunct faculty what they make. It ain't $200k.

firemedic301 8 years, 3 months ago

Isn't Kansas a right to work state and you can be terminated at any time and no reason needs to be given? Could somebody clarify this for me?

yankeevet 8 years, 3 months ago

greed.........for sure.......get all u can get; and

oklahoma 8 years, 3 months ago

He was shown as a contractor on the 990 for designing academic programs, not for teaching a few classes. The rate for a class taught by an adjunct used to be about $600 at the Baker SPGS. Even if the rate has increased substantially, most of the money he was paid was not for teaching in the role of an employee of the University, so his claim for benefits is dubious.

Bruce is right. I hope Baker wins.

domino 8 years, 3 months ago

If he was indeed making over 200K/year, I would think he could have afforded to pay for his own insurance, retirement, etc. I can't imagine he worked all those years without having any insurance, so would assume he had his own insurance. I know of a number or people that put in 70+ hour work weeks that do not make a fraction of what this guy was making. With the limited facts in this article, it certainly sounds to me like a case of being greedy! If that is the case, I hope he gets nothing from Baker and also have to pay their legal fees for a frivilous lawsuite.

puddleglum 8 years, 3 months ago

domino, If he was making 200k/year, 1/2 of it would go to taxes, because as an 'independent contractor' you must pay your own income tax. so now he is making $100K for 70 hours a week? Doesn't sound like that good of deal-does it? To me, I agree with IGBY. employers who hide behind 'contract laborers' should not be allowed to do so. Contract laborers used to be a useful means to get a 'term' contract completed-whether it means short-term, or long-term. These days, corporations are using it so they don't have to hire you as an employee, and pay benefits like days off, health insurance, sick days, schedule you 40 hours a week, etc. you can also fire them at the drop of a hat, without exposing yourself to lawsuits or discrimination fun

bad_dog 8 years, 3 months ago

puddle, I believe the only additional tax burden for an independent contractor arises from the 7.65% SS contribution that an employer would ordinarily fund on an employees' behalf. The total tax burden, while significant, would still not reach 50%.

Even in employment at will states, you cannot fire an employee for reasons that violate public policy such as age discrimination. Independent contractors do not enjoy the same protections and can be discharged as long as there is not a binding contract that requires different protocols.

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