U of L President James Ramsey (left)
U of L President James Ramsey (left)

A veteran University of Louisville compliance officer who resigned last week has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against President James Ramsey, accusing him and his staff of misconduct for ignoring critical issues related to the university’s conflict of interest policies, and of retaliating against him for bringing forward such concerns over the period of several years.

The Courier-Journal first reported the lawsuit Monday night and Ramsey has not yet commented on it, with university spokesman John Karman replying that “UofL officials have yet to see the lawsuit, and typically, we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

Robin Wilcox was a compliance officer at U of L for 10 years, becoming the interim conflict of interest officer in March of 2012, evaluating employees’ annual disclosures of interest and considering possible conflict of interest cases. His lawsuit states problems began that year, once he tried to investigate potential fiscal misconduct of executive vice president of health affairs Dr. David Dunn, who is now on leave and being investigated by the FBI concerning his now-defunct business Health DataStream. As IL reported last month, Dunn did not disclose an interest in Health DataStream in his Attestation and Disclosure Form (ADF), which Wilcox claims he voiced many concerns about to the Ramsey administration.

The lawsuit alleges that then-Provost Shirley Willihnganz discouraged Wilcox from following up on such concerns in 2012, saying “University Leadership believes we are ‘too risk averse’ regarding compliance and legal processes.” After Wilcox also brought up Ramsey’s board position on the U of L Research Foundation’s Advanced Cancer Therapeutics companies — which were only officially disclosed by him two years later — Ramsey’s chief of staff Kathleen Smith allegedly told Wilcox his conflict of interest process would cause the school to lose doctors like Dunn. The lawsuit also claims Ramsey himself voiced displeasure with Wilcox’s concerns, saying it “questioned his integrity.”

The lawsuit goes on to allege that Wilcox over the next two year repeatedly tried to improve and address these conflict of interest concerns at the university — including Ramsey’s refusal to complete an ADF form, which he only did the day after receiving an open records request for the form by Insider Louisville in late December of 2015. However, Wilcox claims he was only ignored or openly discouraged by Ramsey’s staff. During 2014 and 2015, Wilcox says he was interviewed by university police and the U.S. Department of Justice about Dunn’s business and its relation to U of L.

After a Courier-Journal article last December about the federal investigation of Dunn, Ramsey sent out a university-wide email saying Dunn’s misconduct was brought to the university’s attention in the summer of 2014, which Wilcox alleges was false, as he and others first brought these concerns to Ramsey and Willihnganz in December of 2012. The lawsuit states that Wilcox told Dave Barker — associate vice president for Audit Services and Institutional Compliance — that the Board of Trustees should be made aware of this, but that Barker told him no such action should be taken.

Less than a week later, Wilcox alleges he was called into a meeting with Barker, general counsel Leslie Chambers Strohm, and CFO Harlan Sands in which Wilcox was told he was “too passionate” about his approach to compliance and that his audit of the university’s compliance program — still hidden from the Board of Trustees — was “too harsh.” He also alleges he was questioned about having a “vendetta” approach to compliance.

Wilcox’s lawsuit goes on to claim that in January of this year, he was informed by employees that Ramsey’s office was making efforts to discredit him and that his job was now in jeopardy. Later that month, according to the lawsuit, a risk management proposal and draft job description for a new compliance position would exclude him from being eligible and would eliminate his current position. On Feb. 26, Wilcox turned in his resignation letter, in which he described witnessing “a demeanor of unethical behavior becoming the operating norm, a corporate culture in which I have become increasingly unsettled.”

“I have found myself in the unfortunate position of working for an institution in which I have become aware of misconduct that my employing institution and superiors have refused to address,” wrote Wilcox. “I cannot turn a blind eye to these instances. I have done all I can do in my role of Institutional Compliance Officer to escalate these matters to the highest levels of the University and to public officials as required by law: however, these serious issues remain unresolved and my efforts to effectuate change continued to be blocked. I have also been met with animosity and statements by superiors which leads me to question the viability of my future with the University.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]