UK to pay dental professor $620,000 to settle lawsuit alleging he was terminated because he criticized governor’s Medicaid plan
The University of Kentucky has agreed to rehire a former dental professor and pay him $620,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging he was taken off the payroll because he criticized Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to remove dental and vision care as a basic service of the state’s Medicaid program.
After depositions had been taken in the case, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Weir ruled in October that it should be decided by a jury trial, calling it “the epic story of academic intrigue and the place of free speech.”
The suit charged that a few days after Bevin made the proposal in June 2016, new dentistry Dean Stephanos Kyrkanides told Mullins that he needed to stay “off radio” on the matter, and “communicated that this direction came from ‘up top’.” It says that Mullins presumed that to mean no radio or television interviews, and that he told Kyrkanides, “I have not received any requests from the media, but I do have serious concerns,” and said he would submit formal comments about it.
The next month, Mullins was among five Kentucky oral-health leaders who filed comments saying that the cost explanation for reducing dental and vision benefits was “fuzzy,” and based on “flawed cost assumptions.” They argued that removing the benefits would cost the state more than it would save, because poor oral health increases “major cost drivers such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” as well as obesity, and would increase wasteful use of emergency rooms.
“According to legal documents, someone from Bevin’s administration called UK officials, who then expressed the administration’s displeasure to Kyrkanides,” Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “The person who allegedly called UK has never been identified. When the lawsuit was filed in August, 2017, a Bevin spokeswoman denied the claims that anyone from Bevin’s office had pressured UK.”
The suit claimed that Kyrkanides asked other dental-school leaders and faculty how to terminate Mullins’ appointment and told his colleagues “that they could no longer work with Dr. Mullins on new grant-funded projects, in retaliation against Dr. Mullins,” and told them to stop speaking to him “in an effort to ostracize and retaliate against Dr. Mullins for exercise of his First Amendment rights.”