Nicholson files scathing whistleblower lawsuit against Harold Workman’s KY State Fair Board

As LEO Weekly has reported over the past few months, the Kentucky State Fair Board’s budget woes are made all the worse by the appearance of major improprieties in President and CEO Harold Workman’s agency — with family and friends having a curious ability to land both merit and non-merit jobs, and administrative employees receiving large and very questionable raises.

In last month’s column, we reported that Fair Board insiders told LEO that Yum! Center general manager Ted Nicholson was fired by Workman just before the NCAA Tournament — and just after the failed coup against Workman — as retaliation for Nicholson giving the straight truth to auditors hired by the Arena Authority last year — specifically that Workman hired woefully unqualified friends to run the arena, continuing to drain the arena’s bottom line.

And this Thursday, Nicholson filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Kentucky State Fair Board alleging just that.

The lawsuit obtained by LEO Weekly from the Jefferson Circuit Court alleges that Workman fired Nicholson for giving information critical of Workman and his staff at the arena to the auditors at Venue Solutions Group, who he said were unqualified and mismanaging the Yum! Center. He also noted that Workman “verbally berated” Nicholson when he read the preliminary draft of the report last November, telling him that he would make sure that it “never saw the light of day.”

Nicholson is seeking reemployment, payment of back wages, and exemplary and punitive damages.

Here’s the juicy stuff from the lawsuit:

7. That from the beginning of his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was frustrated by abuse of official authority, mismanagement and waste of taxpayer funds committed by his employer. Specifically Fair Board President and CEO Harold Workman had put in place an internal structure which essentially neutered Mr. Nicholson and stripped him of any financial, guest services, marketing or sales oversight whatsoever of the Yum! Center, rendering it impossible to efficiently operate the Yum! Center. An additional source of Plaintiff’s frustration, voiced on numerous occasions to Mr. Workman, was the quality and experience of Yum! Center staff. Mr. Nicholson, although titles the General Manager of the facility, was only permitted to hire 2 out of approximately 40 Yum! Center employees. The remaining employees were handpicked by Mr. Workman, and many of these individuals were personal friends of Mr. Workman and/or woefully unqualified for their respective positions. Additionally, Mr. Nicholson complained to Fair Board management, specifically Mr. Workman, about the overstaffing of employees for certain events and the overpayment of wages for ancillary staff. Lastly, he also complained about events booked by the sales department that would lose money. Mr. Workman’s typical response to these complaints of financial waste and mismanagement was “Don’t worry about it, “ or “Everything will be fine.” None of Mr. Nicholson’s complaints were ever rectified or even properly addressed by Mr. Workman.

8. That in 2011, Venue Solutions Group, a Nashville consulting firm, was retained by the Louisville Arena Authority to conduct a review of the Yum! Center’s general and financial operations. VSG employee Mike Wooley was the auditor assigned to the project and, among other actions, conducted interviews of key staff members, beginning in September 2001. Mr. Nicholson, as requested, participated in the interview process and provided honest and sincere answers to the questions posed by Mr. Wooley.

9. That, on or about November 16, 2011, Fair Board President and CEO Workman received a draft of the consulting firm’s report. The report was critical of the Yum! Center’s high operating expenses (highest among six “peer” facilities reviewed), the lack of authority and responsibility given to General Manager Nicholson, the “centralization” and consolidation of power solely residing with Mr. Workman, the needless overstaffing and high wages paid to this staff, and the lack of meaningful venue operating experience of several high ranking Yum! Center employees. In short, the consultant’s report repeated, confirmed and agreed with most, if not all, of the complaint of financial waste and mismanagement made by Mr. Nicholson throughout the course of his employment with Defendant.

10. That on or about November 16, 2011, immediately upon receipt of the draft report, Mr. Workman called Plaintiff and verbally berated Mr. Nicholson. Highly irate, Mr. Workman stated, among other things, that he didn’t know who Mr. Nicholson thought he was and that he should have never provided that information to Mr. Wooley, the author. Mr. Workman further stated that he was going to work to make sure that the report “never saw the light of day.”

11. That, subsequent to the circulation of the draft report, Mr. Workman assured Arena Authority officials that he would take necessary steps to improve the arena’s operations and its financial performance. Apparently unhappy with the “follow through” on these promises by Mr. Workman, the Fair Board voted on February 23, 2012 to recommend removal of Mr. Workman as its President. However, Mr. Workman was allowed to remain in his position at that time.

12. That two (2) business days later, on February 27, 2012, Mr. Nicholson was unilaterally and summarily terminated as Yum! Center General manager by Mr. Workman, President and CEO of the Fair Board. In a letter addressed and hand-delivered to Plaintiff on that same date, it was specifically noted that “{t}his action was taken without cause…”

Big headlines were made this week by State Auditor Adam Edelen’s audit of Richie Farmer’s tenure as commissioner of agriculture. Even though Workman recently announced that he will step down at the end of this year, one has to wonder if Edelen will have the nerve to take on the politically connected Harold Workman and his Fair Board next.


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  1. [...] So, Workman is free to devote more time to defending himself in the KFC Yum! Center/Kentucky State Fair Board courtroom drama. [...]