Ricketts’ former assistant loses federal age discrimination claim; state claim remains

December 19, 2018

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ one-time administrative assistant Tuesday lost her federal claim against her former boss, but her state claim accusing him of age discrimination remains for now.

Kathleen Graham filed a lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court in May alleging Ricketts had fired her Dec. 1, 2016, at the age of 65, telling her it was because of budget cuts.

At the time, she was less than a year from retirement.

Her attorney, Vince Powers, said the governor then hired an administrative assistant in her 20s and gave her a pay increase. She sat in Graham’s former desk, parked in her former parking spot and performed the same duties Graham had performed, he alleged.

A spokesman for Ricketts’ office said Graham’s former position wasn’t replaced but was absorbed by others in the office.

Although the case originally was filed in Lancaster County District Court, the state asked that the case be moved to U.S. District Court because it involved a federal claim filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Powers argued that by asking for the move, the state had waived its sovereign immunity.

But, in an order Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon disagreed and found the state was entitled to summary judgment.

Because the only remaining claim is a state law claim under the Nebraska Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Graham’s case will go back to Lancaster County District Court.

Graham had worked for the state since Jan. 1, 2000, starting at the Nebraska Attorney General’s office before working for Dave Heineman when he was lieutenant governor and then governor, and for Ricketts for one month short of two years.

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