Former professor at UK College of Dentistry files lawsuit accusing school of terminating him after critical Medicaid waiver comments

08/03/2017 11:27 AM

A former emeritus professor at the University of Kentucky’s College of Dentistry has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit accusing the university of not renewing his appointment after he made comments critical of the Kentucky HEALTH Medicaid waiver last year.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, also lists an unnamed “John Doe” in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and alleges that the Governor’s Office pressured UK to end Dr. Raynor Mullins’ employment following his public comments against the proposed waiver. It also names Mark Birdwhistell, vice president for administrative and external affairs for UK HealthCare who helped craft the Kentucky HEALTH waiver, and Stephanos Kyrkanides, dean of UK’s College of Dentistry.

Mullins — who worked as chair of the UK Department of Community Dentistry from 1974 to 1988 and as head of the education program and chief of the Division of Dental Public Health at the UK College of Dentistry from 1988 to 1994 and 1994 to 2004, respectively – had been an emeritus professor at the university since 2006, according to the lawsuit.

In his lawsuit, Mullins said Kyrkanides told him to stay “off radio” as the waiver proposal moved into the public comment period. Mullins told Kyrkanides that he had not been contacted by any media outlets, but he planned to submit comments after further studying the plan, according to the suit.

Mullins and four other dentists and health leaders submitted their concerns with the proposal July 16, which were later published by former Gov. Steve Beshear’s Save Kentucky Healthcare group, and Mullins says in the lawsuit that Bevin or someone in his administration pressured Birdwhistell and Kyrkanides to retaliate against him.

The lawsuit says Kyrkanides spoke with others about ways to get Mullins out of the university, including telling Mullins after a meeting in September “that it was a very bad strategy ‘to piss the Governor off,’ and that Dr. Mullins’ public comment had indeed ‘pissed off’ the Governor.”

“Defendant Kyrkanides also cautioned Dr. Mullins that as a state employee, ‘we all work for the Governor,’ and threateningly told Dr. Mullins that Governor Bevin is ultimately Dr. Mullins’ ‘boss,’” the lawsuit says.

After Mullins and the other four health professionals submitted comments against Kentucky HEALTH during the federal comment period, he alleges that Kurkanides told his colleagues not to work with or speak to him and that the UK Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity did not fully investigate complaints he lodged in October.

Mullins then received a letter in January notifying him that he would not be reappointed to his emeritus position when his term expired June 30, and he says the letter was filled with inaccurate reasons for his termination.

UK spokeswoman Kristi Lopez said the university cannot comment on pending litigation.

Amanda Stamper, Bevin’s communications director, said Bevin’s office had no involvement in the matter.

“Neither Governor Bevin, nor anybody else in the Governor’s office, knows the plaintiff or has any knowledge about the allegations detailed in the media’s coverage of this case,” she said in a statement. “We doubt it’s a coincidence that both the plaintiff and his lawyer are political donors and supporters of Steve and Andy Beshear.”

Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records show Mullins contributed $250 to Beshear’s 2011 re-election campaign and his attorney, Joe Childers, gave $2,100 to Beshear campaigns and $1,000 to Attorney General Andy Beshear’s 2015 campaign.

Mullins is seeking punitive damages from defendants as punishment and to “deter them and others similarly situated from committing such violations in the future.”


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.