NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – More than a month after he was fired, the former airport CEO and president has filed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA).
Metro Nashville’s Airport Authority Board of Commissioners voted to fire Robert Wigington on Oct. 18 during a board meeting.
The board cited six issues, including questionable spending, an employee arrested for embezzlement during his tenure, and communication complaints from board members.
The newly-filed lawsuit alleges the airport refused to allow Wigington to resume his job duties and responsibilities when he returned to work after recovering from liver transplant surgery. He had been granted leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in late July.
On Sept. 5, when he returned from medical leave, Winginton was told the airport had decided to go in a “different direction,” and that he was being relieved of his duties.
According to his attorney, MNAA did not provide their client with an explanation for his termination, did not give him the required notice and did not give him the opportunity to return to his former position.
The complaint also alleges that MNAA improperly perceived Wiginton as “having a disability” and “being unable to fill the role of president and CEO.”
The 43-page federal lawsuit also notes Wigington was an effective aviation executive and that his leadership over the last six years held the airport earn “numerous industry accolades and honors.” At the time of his firing, Winginton was making more than $293,000 per year.
“It’s clear that the Airport Authority was very satisfied with Robert’s performance until he had the misfortune of developing liver cancer and notified the board that he was having transplant surgery,” attorney Sanford Heisler Sharp said.
Sharp continued, “That apparently flipped a switch for some members of the board who essentially turned on Mr. Wigington and then retaliated against him for taking medical leave. The law simply does not allow that and the Board knows it. MNAA’s egregious and unlawful actions have caused Rob significant harm and cannot go unchallenged.”
In addition to demanding a jury trial, the complaint charges include unlawful interference and denial of his FMLA benefits, discrimination and retaliation for requesting and taking FMLA leave, violation of the Tennessee Disability Act, retaliatory discharge, breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that MNAA’s employment practices are unlawful, for nominal damages, and for defendants to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.
In a statement to News 2, Bobby Joslin, chair of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority Board of Commissioners, said:
This lawsuit was not unexpected. But I want to be clear – the Board of Commissioners has a fiduciary duty to do what is best for the Airport Authority and the city we serve. In this case, by a unanimous 10-0 vote, the board acted to make a change in the top management of the Airport Authority based on our deep dissatisfaction with the CEO’s performance and his failure to fulfill his job obligations to the standard required of his position. This is a critical time for Nashville International Airport as we confront rapid passenger growth and undergo a major capital expansion project. It is absolutely imperative to this community that we have the right airport leadership in place as we go forward. I am confident the board’s actions were justified, necessary, and in the community’s best interests.
Doug Kreulen has since taken over the duties of president and CEO at the airport and will lead the billion dollar expansion project.