John Veitch

John Veitch

Anne M. Eberhardt

Ruling: John Veitch Improperly Dismissed

Personnel board decides former chief steward should be reinstated, receive back pay.

A hearing officer for the Kentucky Personnel Board has recommended that fired chief racing steward John Veitch should be reinstated to his former position and be awarded all back pay and benefits dating to his dismissal date of Nov. 28, 2011.

The April 24 recommendation, which can be acted upon by the personnel board within 15 days, agreed with Veitch's attorneys that the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and not the Public Protection Cabinet, had the jurisdiction to fire Veitch.

Veitch was dismissed without cause in a Nov. 28 letter from Holly McCoy-Johnson, the appointing authority for the Public Protection Cabinet. In a supplemental appeal filed on behalf of Veitch, attorney Tom Miller said Veitch's dismissal was initiated by Public Protection Cabinet secretary Robert Vance. The KHRC falls under auspices of the Public Protection Cabinet.

"My dismissal was not only improper, but violated my statutory and constitutional rights because Vance...had no authority to dismiss me as chief state steward," Veitch said in the supplemental appeal filed by Miller. "Because only the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had the authority to dismiss me, Vance's unilateral decision was a clear statutory and constitutional violation of my rights and not effective. Therefore, I remain employed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission."

The personnel board ruling stated: "...It is concluded that the executive director of the KHRC has the sole and exclusive authority to hire and to terminate employees of the KHRC, but must process such personnel actions to the Personnel Cabinet through the Public Protection Cabinet.

"The statutes and regulations make it clear that such personnel actions must originate from within the KHRC. This termination did not originate from the KHRC. It originated from the Public Protection Cabinet. In fact, no action pertaining to termination was considered, voted on, or taken by the KHRC. Therefore, appellant has met his burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence to show his termination from the position of chief state steward was improperly done."

In reference to other claims made in his appeal, the personnel board said Veitch had not shown that his termination constituted discrimination based on age of 40 years or older; that Veitch's position was a non-merit unclassified position, and that termination procedures pertinent to classified employees did not apply to his termination; and that he had failed to show that his termination was the result of exercising his constitutional right of due process during the controversial handling of Life At Ten prior to the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

In response to the ruling, the KHRC said: "This is not a final order. The Cabinet and the KHRC concur with the hearing officer's recommended order that Mr. Veitch's dismissal was not a result of age discrimination, and that Mr. Veitch's involvement in the Life At Ten incident was not used by the Cabinet in his dismissal.

"Additionally, the dismissal of Mr. Veitch without cause is not at question in this recommendationonly the mechanism used for that dismissal. However, the conclusion that only the KHRC, and not the Public Protection Cabinet, has the right to terminate Mr. Veitch is contrary to the applicable statutes. Attorneys for the Cabinet and KHRC will be filing exceptions within the next two weeks."

In addition to appealing his dismissal as chief steward, Veitch has also filed litigation seeking to overturn the KHRC's upholding a hearing officer's recommendation that Veitch be suspended for a year for his handling of the Life At Ten situation.

Life At Ten, owned by Candy DeBartolo and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished last in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) as the second choice at odds of 7-2. With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Life At Ten had no run when the field left the gate, and she was not persevered with throughout the race.

The day after the Ladies' Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher said it appeared that Life At Ten had an allergic reaction to Salix, the anti-bleeder medication she was treated with prior to the race.

Velazquez did not admit to any wrongdoing in the matter, but paid a $10,000 fine, half of which went to a charity.