LSU alumni head taking time off amid lawsuit

The longtime head of the LSU Alumni Association is taking a break from work amid allegations that he gave a woman a job so she would continue a sexual relationship with him and then paid her monthly hush money after she resigned.

Kay Heath, the woman who is suing LSU Alumni Association President and CEO Charlie Roberts and the Alumni Association, offered to remove the alumni group from her lawsuit Friday if Roberts is fired or permanently resigns.

Meanwhile, LSU says it has initiated an inquiry into Heath’s allegations in cooperation with the Alumni Association, which runs as a separate entity.

Heath’s lawsuit, which has spurred a tabloid-worthy back-and-forth, claims Roberts, 78, offered her payments of $3,200 a month for the rest of her life if she kept their alleged relationship secret. Heath, 63, says she sued Roberts and the Alumni Association after the payments stopped last month.

Roberts, through his attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, has denied the accusations.

Pierson said Roberts’ time off — which is being taken as accrued, paid vacation time — is voluntary and will allow him to focus his attention on the lawsuit. Cliff Vannoy, chief operating officer of the Alumni Association, will serve as acting CEO while Roberts is on leave, according to LSU.

“He has a lot of accrued annual leave,” Pierson said Friday. “His board was very supportive of him to do whatever he wanted to do. This was Charlie’s idea, and they approved it.”

In his own statement, Heath’s attorney Jeffry Sanford called Roberts a “bully” who Heath believes is “a continuing threat to women” at work, thus her offer to drop the Alumni Association from her suit in exchange for his removal.

“Taking paid annual leave is not acceptable,” Sanford said. “Alumni donations should not continue to be used to fund this type of behavior.”

Along with the statement, Sanford sent three smiling photos of Heath to use for publication and urged media outlets to use one of the three, rather than any photo “that Mr. Roberts or the Alumni Association may provide.”

In response, Pierson called Heath’s public offer to drop the alumni group from her lawsuit “basically unheard of.”

“It’s a threat more than anything else,” Pierson said. “She’s gone from greed to revenge.”

Heath started working in marketing for the Alumni Association in 2007. Roberts has overseen alumni operations since 1984, when he was named vice chancellor for university relations, a position that was eventually dissolved to remove the university’s alumni groups from its public umbrella.

Heath’s lawsuit claims that she was in a sexual relationship with Roberts before she started working at the Alumni Association and she needed money so she could divorce her husband and continue her relationship with Roberts. It alleges that in April 2012, Roberts told Heath that association rules barred the arrangement and some members of the association’s board learned of their personal relationship, so one of the two needed to resign.

The lawsuit claims at least one member of the association’s board knew about the alleged payoff scheme.

Pierson has said Roberts, who makes at least $300,000 a year, gave some money to Heath on a personal level but not in his professional role and not through a formal payoff agreement related to her resignation.

The Alumni Association is one of the three main nonprofit organizations that help support LSU but are run apart from the university. Its main goal is to build up relationships with LSU graduates, produce the LSU Alumni Magazine and host alumni events. It reported $7.3 million in revenue in 2011 and $4.2 million in 2012, according to its IRS filing.

Meanwhile, the university’s main fundraising arm, the LSU Foundation, brought in more than $68 million, and the Tiger Athletic Foundation, which primarily raises money for athletic efforts, raised more than $55 million. The two foundations have their own boards and staff.

The Alumni Association in June named its lifetime achievement award after Roberts, who began overseeing outreach and alumni efforts as vice chancellor three decades ago, according to the Alumni Association. The alumni group became an independent nonprofit in 1987, and Roberts was reassigned from vice chancellor to his alumni-only duties in 1990.

At the 1994 dedication of the Lod Cook Alumni Center, Roberts introduced each of the former presidents in attendance: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

According to a 2010 issue of the LSU Alumni magazine, Roberts was in the “Golden Band from Tigerland” as an undergraduate and graduate student. He served as student director of the band and leader of the LSU cheerleaders and basketball pep band and wrote a book called “History of the LSU Band.”

According to her LinkedIn profile, Heath also was in the LSU band while in college.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana education and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .