Highly compensated former Baker employee files lawsuit against school
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.