Posted August 7th, 2019.
Nate Rau, Nashville Tennessean
The Metro Nashville Airport Authority has reached a $2 million settlement with former CEO Rob Wigington, ending his lawsuit alleging that the board of directors fired him for being sick.
Wigington sued in December 2017 alleging that the airport’s board of directors violated the Family Medical Leave Act when it fired him with cause earlier that year. Wigington took leave after he became sick with a liver disease and claimed the airport fired him because he appeared sickly in public and needed time away.
The board said it fired Wigington for financial mismanagement, for failing to enact major changes recommended in a scathing consultants report and presiding over the airport during a time of major scandals. The board counter sued Wigington for $2.6 million.
The litigation became combative with Wigington producing text messages and emails in legal filings showing that board members seemed to violate open meetings laws. In some cases, board members seemed to make decisions via text messages and in other instances board members made arrangements to meet at restaurants to discuss Wigington’s status.
LAWSUIT: Former Nashville airport CEO sues over termination
ACCUSATIONS:Nashville Airport Authority fires CEO Rob Wigington, who accuses board of breaking law in dismissing him
TEXT MESSAGES:Fired CEO says Nashville airport is failing to provide emails, texts in wrongful termination lawsuit
Wigington also claimed the airport failed to produce necessary public records, including emails from some board members such as country music star Dierks Bentley. A federal judge sided with Wigington and ordered the airport to release the records.
The $2 million settlement represents about seven years worth of salary for Wigington, who made about $285,000 at the time of his firing. According to court filings, Wigington will be paid $1.125 million and his attorneys will be paid $875,000.
The lead attorney for Wigington was former federal judge Kevin Sharp. The Airport Authority was represented in the litigation by attorney Zan Blue.
“Mr. Wigington is proud of the achievements and successes the Nashville International Airport experienced during his tenure as president and CEO,” Sharp said in an emailed statement. “Under his leadership the Airport Authority secured a $200 million bond issuance, broke ground on the $1.2 billion BNA Vision expansion program and negotiated over 20 new non-stop flights, including the much lauded route to London Heathrow.
“Mr. Wigington believes this settlement is a reflection and recognition of his numerous accomplishments. Having fully recovered from his liver transplant, he is happy to have this litigation behind him and is looking forward to continuing his work in the aviation industry.”
After firing Wigington, the airport hired one of his former deputies Doug Kreulen as its CEO. The Nashville airport is in the midst of a $1.2 billion expansion and renovation, including a complete overhaul of its food service that will feature the addition of dozens of locally owned restaurants setting up shop in the airport.
“The Nashville International Airport is an enormous engine of economic activity and a great asset for our community and our state,” Kreulen said. “The airport authority made a business decision to settle this protracted lawsuit with the former CEO.
“Resolving this dispute allows the commissioners and our staff to focus 100% of their energy on what’s important to Middle Tennessee: building a first-class airport to meet the needs of our travelers both domestically and internationally.”