LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The former public safety director at Louisville International Airport has filed a lawsuit alleging the airport agency violated Kentucky law when it fired him last year without a hearing.
In addition, a lawyer for James Sohan suggests in court documents that the firing came after his client raised “serious safety, personnel, equipment and other potential failings” of the airport’s public safety operations, including concerns about fire vehicles that weren’t dependable and one that routinely broke down.
Sohan was let go last winter after working for the Louisville Regional Airport Authority since 2013. He previously spent more than a decade as a firefighter and retired as a major from the Louisville Metro Police Department in 2011 after 22 years with city police.
Karen Scott, who at the time was the airport’s interim director, told Sohan in a February 22, 2018 termination letter that he had “engaged in multiple violations of the Authority’s policies.” WDRB News obtained the letter after successfully challenging longstanding airport policy that kept officers’ records secret.
Scott claimed Sohan discussed personnel matters with airport officers during an ongoing investigation into one of his staff, including making false statements, and that he lied about an unauthorized airport-related Facebook page.
But the lawsuit filed December 21 in Jefferson Circuit Court claims Scott’s letter “sets forth a number of incorrect, false, and improper grounds” for the firing.
Besides that, Sohan attorney Kenneth L. McCardwell argues that a public hearing in front of the airport board should have occurred before the firing. State law requires such hearings for employees of fire protection districts, which McCardwell claims includes the airport agency.
Airport officials denied Sohan’s “statutorily mandated administrative hearing,” the lawsuit says.
Scott was running the airport agency, whose board is appointed by Louisville’s mayor and Kentucky’s governor, after longtime director Skip Miller retired. Dan Mann became the permanent executive director last March.
Brenda Allen, the airport authority’s vice president of legal affairs and corporate culture, said in a statement issued Thursday that the agency is confident in its actions and committed to defending its position in court.
But she provided more detail about that strategy in a letter to McCardwell on December 22, the day after the lawsuit was filed. She called the notion that Sohan deserved a hearing “fatally flawed.”
WDRB obtained the letter through an open records request.
Allen wrote that the sections of state law cited by Sohan’s attorney don’t apply to the airport authority, because it is not a fire department or under the control of a county or county fiscal court. As a result, she added, Sohan was “terminable at will.”
In a letter submitted with the lawsuit, McCardwell wrote that it appeared that Sohan was fired after he repeatedly told Scott about his public safety concerns.
The letter says Sohan told Scott about fire vehicles that were not dependable, while an aging vehicle had been taken out of service and its turret wasn’t able to be fixed.
Among the two other trucks, one was a “maintenance nightmare,” the letter says, while the other “broke down weekly” and had caught fire three different times. Sohan also told Scott the public safety department was “grossly understaffed,” according to the letter.
In her letter, Allen pointed out that after she became the interim director, Scott added the issues raised by Sohan to “action plans, budgets and purchase orders.”