The ousted chief of Nashville International Airport says his firing was a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act. He had been approved to take time off for a liver transplant but wasn't allowed to come back six weeks later.
The lawsuit filed in federal court says Rob Wigington worked up to the day before he got his new liver, July 22. He says that he had notified the city's airport authority of his cancer diagnosis and that he would need time to recuperate but planned to be back.
The Family Medical Leave Act allows employees to take time off for family or medical issues and still keep their job. It makes exceptions for people deemed key to operations if their return would cause "substantial and grievous economic harm." But to exempt someone from FMLA, the person has to be informed before going on leave — and Wigington wasn't declared a key employee until August 1, according to the suit.
The lawsuit also accuses the airport authority of violating disability rules, alleging that board chair Bobby Joslin saying he looked too sick to speak on behalf of the airport. Attorney and former federal judge Kevin Sharp says Wigington — his client — wants to return to work along with back pay.
"Nowhere in the complaint says, 'This is about hurt feelings,' " Sharp says. "It's about complying with federal law."
The airport authority contends that the unanimous firing was based on a "deep dissatisfaction" with Wigington's job performance, especially as Nashville International Airport embarks on a $1.2 billion expansion.
"It is absolutely imperative to this community that we have the right airport leadership in place as we go forward," Joslin said in a statement, similar to one released in mid-October. "I am confident the board’s actions were justified, necessary and in the community’s best interests."
In response, the lawsuit says the justification — which also includes specific points about communication with commissioners, financial controls and unfilled executive positions — is coming too late to be genuine, pointing out that Wigington was always granted performance bonuses.
At the November board meeting, interim CEO Doug Kreulen announced appointments to fill some of the top jobs at the airport, including a new chief legal officer and chief financial officer. The board doesn't meet again until Dec. 13, but on Wednesday, the airport authority's management committee is expected to discuss the Wigington lawsuit.