Keehner hopes for positive change at Wesleyan

BUCKHANNON — The plaintiff’s attorney in a lawsuit against West Virginia Wesleyan College said his client hopes the suit’s resolution will bring positive change to the school.

Matt Hansberry represented Julie Keehner, who served as Wesleyan’s vice president of student development until her dismissal in May 2016. Five months later, Keehner sued the college, claiming Wesleyan violated the W.Va. Human Rights Act in terminating her employment.

In December 2017, the parties reached an agreement that would bring the suit to a close.  On Dec. 14, Judge Kurt Hall entered a judgment against Wesleyan, awarding Keehner $250,000.

“The court hereby orders that judgment is entered in favor of plaintiff Julia A. Keehner against defendant West Virginia Wesleyan College in the total amount of $250,000, which is inclusive of all damages and costs ... that have been incurred to date by the plaintiff,” Hall wrote in his order.

The judge further notes four violations of the Human Rights Act specifically set forth in Keehner’s complaint: gender discrimination, age discrimination, reprisals/retaliation and disability discrimination.

Hansberry said Keehner is pleased with the result and hopes it will serve as a catalyst for change on campus.

“Julie Keehner is someone who loved West Virginia Wesleyan College and its students. She poured her heart and soul into both,” Hansberry said in a written statement. “While it is incredibly unfortunate that West Virginia Wesleyan College discriminated against Ms. Keehner, she is pleased with the final result in the case. And importantly, she hopes that the judgment in this case will raise awareness and serve as a vehicle for positive change at West Virginia Wesleyan College.”

In a telephone interview Friday, Hansberry pointed to the judgment order as something that set this case apart from others.

“Something significant is that it is a judgment order,” Hansberry said. “It is a court document, a document signed by Judge Hall, and it notes that judgment is entered in favor of the plaintiff of the case.”

Hansberry said that in his experience, most settlements are reached confidentially. In those cases, while the court might enter an order of dismissal, there would not be a judgment against one of the parties.

“That’s what is a little bit unique as to what we are talking about here, as opposed to other cases that might be confidential as far as a settlement,” Hansberry explained. “This is different. This is not a settlement that is confidential with no admission of liability … There was certainly significance to having a judgment in this case. It was meaningful.”

In the statement provided to The Record Delta last week, the college denied wrongdoing.

“Wesleyan strongly asserts that it did not act wrongfully or unlawfully in any manner related to the termination of Ms. Keehner’s employment,” Wesleyan’s statement read.

Hansberry felt differently.

“I don’t think [the judgment] absolves the college in any way shape or form,” he said. “It is a judgment against the college in regards to those claims [of gender discrimination, age discrimination, reprisals/retaliation and disability discrimination].

“Not only do we continue to believe that they had merit, we think the judgment order is something that demonstrates that they had merit.”

The college had no additional comment.



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