Case Type: Wrongful Termination/Retaliation
Company: Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority
Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (“MNAA”) on behalf of Robert Wigington, the Airport Authority’s former President and Chief Executive Officer. The Complaint alleges MNAA refused to allow Wigington to resume his job duties and responsibilities when he returned to work after recovering from liver transplant surgery.
Wigington requested and was granted leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which he began on July 24, 2017. On September 5 when Wigington returned from medical leave, MNAA told Wigington that they had decided to go in a “different direction” and that he was being relieved of his duties. MNAA did not provide Wigington an explanation for his termination, did not give him the required notice, and did not give him the opportunity to return to his former position, which is a violation of federal law. On October 18, MNAA voted to terminate Mr. Wigington’s employment and attempted to justify its decision with a bogus account of his “reported behaviors.”
The Complaint debunks each of the so-called “reported behaviors” and alleges that the evidence does not support the Board’s claim that reinstating Mr. Wigington would cause “substantial and grievous” economic injury to the Airport Authority’s operations.
The Complaint also alleges that MNAA improperly perceived Mr. Wigington as having a disability and being unable to fill the role of President and CEO. Prior to Wigington’s medical leave, Board Chair Bobby Joslin commented that Mr. Wigington should no longer speak on behalf of the Airport Authority because he looked “too sick.” Later, after Mr. Wigington notified the Board that he was medically cleared and could return to work soon, MNAA insisted that his doctor certify a second time that Mr. Wigington was able to perform the duties of the President & CEO and questioned whether he presented “undue risks of harm to himself or others” after having undergone “major surgery with significant post-operative risks.”
Kevin H. Sharp, Managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville office, and Hannah M. Wolf, an Associate at Sanford Heisler Sharp, represent Wigington in the lawsuit.
The Complaint notes that Wigington has been an effective aviation executive and that his leadership over the past six years has helped Nashville International Airport earn numerous industry accolades and honors, including recognition as one of the “Best Airports in the World.” Mr. Wigington has also received honors for his leadership at the MNAA.
“It’s clear that the Airport Authority was very satisfied with Robert’s performance until he had the misfortune of developing liver cancer and notified the Board that he was having transplant surgery,” said Sharp. “That apparently flipped a switch for some members of the Board who essentially turned on Mr. Wigington and then retaliated against him for taking medical leave. The law simply does not allow that and the Board knows it. MNAA’s egregious and unlawful actions have caused Rob significant harm and cannot go unchallenged.”
According to the Complaint, the MNAA Management Committee held a non-publicly noticed meeting six days after Wigington’s liver transplant surgery, even though all MNAA’s committee and Board meetings require public notice. Three days after this meeting, MNAA’s Human Resource Department informed Wigington he was eligible for leave under the FMLA. While on medical leave, he received no notice of a change in his eligibility determination. Wigington expected that he would be reinstated upon his return from medical leave as required by law, but he was not allowed to do so.
“It’s clear that none of the reasons given by the Board for terminating Mr. Wigington were valid and their illegal termination was simply in retaliation for him taking legally sanctioned medical leave and because they perceived him to have a disability. This is a violation of state and federal law, and a breach of Mr. Wigington’s employment contract,” said Hannah Wolf. “Given his stellar performance record, it’s truly perplexing why the Board would pursue this illegal action.”
In addition to demanding a jury trial, the Complaint charges include unlawful interference and denial of his FMLA benefits; discrimination and retaliation for requesting and taking FMLA leave; violation of the Tennessee Disability Act; retaliatory discharge; breach of contract; and, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that MNAA’s employment practices are unlawful, for nominal damages, and for Defendants to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.