U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush has ruled in favor of fired ITD Director Pam Lowe on a key point in her wrongful-firing case: That she wasn't an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause. It's a significant win for Lowe, who contends her firing came because she tried to scale back a big contract with a politically well-connected firm; that she was fired without cause and without being allowed a hearing; and that she was discriminated against because she's female. She was the first woman to head the Idaho Transportation Department; she since has been replaced by a man who is being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.
The judge's ruling, issued Saturday, opens the way for consideration of the gender-bias and political pressure claims.
At issue was the 1974 law creating the ITD director's position, saying, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.”
The department didn't cite any of the four reasons from the law in firing Lowe. Instead, the ITD board said in 2009, that Lowe's firing would “help the department continue improving customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature.” In court documents, the state contended Lowe was fired for not adequately dealing with the Legislature, which it said meant she was doing a poor job despite good reviews for her internal management of the department. You can read the judge's 57-page decision here.