Following an internal review that concluded in October 2017, the Metro Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA) fired its President and CEO, Robert Wigington. Among its findings were that the Airport chief fostered a ‘culture of secrecy and concealment.’
The decision to remove Wigington – under whose six years of leadership the Nashville International Airport was recognized as one of the “Best Airports in the World” – was approved unanimously by the Authority, who added that because Wigington’s removal was for cause, he would not be entitled to receive a severance package.
Among the laundry-list of financial irregularities, the MNAA cited a substantial agreement involving $2.6 million in incentives to British Airways for a direct flight to London announced in August.
However, Wigington contends his removal is due to a series of serious medial issues – namely, liver cancer, failure, subsequent transplant, and recovery – and he has retained Kevin H. Sharp, Managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville office, and Hannah M. Wolf, an Associate at Sanford Heisler Sharp, represent him in a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination and retaliation.
In a statement obtained by The Star, Wigington’s attorney, Kevin Sharp said, “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,” said Sharp. “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.”
Sharp’s detailed statement lays out their timeline of events, contending Wigington requested and was granted leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which he began on July 24th, 2017. On September 5th when Wigington returned from medical leave, MNAA told Wigington that they had decided to go in a “different direction” and that he was being relieved of his duties.
The lawsuit (embedded below) addresses each of the “reported behaviors” and alleges that the evidence does not support the Board’s claim that reinstating Mr. Wigington would cause “substantial and grievous” economic injury to the Airport Authority’s operations. It also states the MNAA did not provide Wigington 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, which is a violation of federal law. On October 18th, MNAA voted to terminate Wigington’s employment, including a Report listing the behaviors the Authority deemed suspect (see Report below).
The lawsuit also alleges that prior to Wigington’s medical leave, Board Chair Bobby Joslin commented that Mr. Wigington should no longer speak on behalf of the Airport Authority because he looked “too sick.”
According to Wigington, after his recovery from surgery, he was medically cleared to return to work but the MNAA insisted that his doctor certify his good health a second time before resuming his duties of the President & CEO and questioned whether he presented “undue risks of harm to himself or others” after having undergone “major surgery with significant post-operative risks.”
“It’s clear that none of the reasons given by the Board for terminating Mr. Wigington were valid and their illegal termination was simply in retaliation for him taking legally sanctioned medical leave and because they perceived him to have a disability. This is a violation of state and federal law, and a breach of Mr. Wigington’s employment contract,” said Hannah Wolf. “Given his stellar performance record, it’s truly perplexing why the Board would pursue this illegal action.”
Read the Metro Nashville Airport Authority’s Report regarding President and CEO Robert Wigington’s causes for removal:MNAA-wigington-report
Read Robert Wigington’s lawsuit filed against the Metro Nashville Airport Authority:MNAA_2017-12-04 Wigington v. MNAA - Final
Read Robert Wigington’s Employment Agreement with MNAA:MNAA_Exhibit A. Wigington's Employment Agreement 2015