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Posts tagged: Pam Lowe

State’s legal bill for defense in Pam Lowe case tops $614K

The state's legal bill for fighting former ITD chief Pam Lowe's wrongful firing lawsuit has swelled to $614,647, according to information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law. Idaho's Risk Management office in the state Department of Administration, responding to a pending public records request from Eye on Boise, reported that figure for total attorney fees and other defense costs for the state as of the date of dismissal. Kit Coffin, risk management chief, reported, “That is the total of all in hand on the date of dismissal. There may be another bill or two from work relating to that.”

After close to three years of litigation, the state settled with Lowe for $750,000; it also gave her a positive job reference, which was attached to the settlement.

ITD: ‘Concluded a settlement is the best course at this time’

The Idaho Transportation Department, in a news release today on the state's settlement with former ITD chief Pam Lowe, said, “The Idaho Transportation Board still believes it was appropriate and within its legal rights to fire Ms. Lowe, but concluded a settlement is the best course at this time.” ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said, “The board was prepared to take its case to trial, but the potential risks, time, expense, and possible appeals meant the costs of litigation would continue to escalate.” The board also continued to dispute Lowe's claims in her wrongful-firing lawsuit; click below to read ITD's full news release.

Lowe: ‘I tried to resolve this dispute early on for much less money’

Pam Lowe, former Idaho Transporation chief, had these comments today on the settlement she reached with the state in her wrongful firing lawsuit, in response to questions from Eye on Boise:

“I recognize that $750,000 is a lot of money, but it is a compromise and was much less than my actual damages.” Lowe's attorney fees, back wages and benefits alone added up to close to $500,000. “Comparatively, certainly it's a fraction of the cost to taxpayers of the GARVEE contract,” she noted, referring to the $50 million contract with politically well-connected firms that she tried to trim back to $30 million - and that since has swelled to more than $80 million.

Said Lowe, “I tried to resolve this dispute early on, even as early as at the time of my termination, for much less money than what ITD is paying me now.”

She added, “As you can see from the settlement agreement, my attorneys received 25 percent of the total amount paid. That's in addition to some other fees that I paid them, and I thought they did a fantastic job. But what I paid for my attorney fees was a fraction of what the state paid, and I do believe I got great value.” The state of Idaho paid nearly $600,000 in fees to a private law firm that handled its end of the case, and more bills still could come in.

“I'm certainly happy to put this behind me,” Lowe said. “I've spent my entire career as a public servant dedicated to transparency and to transportation, and I've focused on saving Idaho taxpayers money while constructing the transportation system.” She said, “I'm a positive person and I'm glad to take a positive step and put this litigation behind me and be able to move on with my life. I'm proud of what I accomplished at ITD.”

Attached to the settlement, the ITD board gave Lowe a letter of recommendation for future jobs. “As their employment letter states, throughout my career at ITD including my term as director, I did my job. And that letter was significant,” she said. “I had nothing but positive performance evaluations, and my last written evaluation by the chairman of the board said I was an exceptional manager and saved Idaho $50 million. So I'm pleased with my accomplishments at the Idaho Transportation Department.”

Idaho pays fired ITD chief $750,000, gives her positive letter of recommendation

The state of Idaho is paying $750,000 to former Transportation Director Pam Lowe to settle her wrongful-firing lawsuit, bringing the state's total cost for the case to $1.34 million. That's because Idaho already has paid $590,833 to the private law firm it hired to defend it against Lowe's lawsuit, according to information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law; more bills may yet come due.

Lowe, the department's first female director, charged she was fired without cause, because she resisted political pressure against reducing a giant contract with a  politically well-connected firm; she also alleged gender discrimination. She was replaced by a man who started at a salary $22,000 higher than hers.

The settlement, released today after final papers were filed in federal court this morning, includes a glowing job recommendation for Lowe, signed by the chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State pays another $35K to law firm for defense in Pam Lowe wrongful firing case; bill up to almost $600K

Public records revealed today that the state has sent another $34,594 payment to the private law firm it hired to defend the state Transportation Board against a wrongful-firing lawsuit from ousted former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe. Lowe, the department's first female chief, recently settled her lawsuit, which charged both gender discrimination and political pressure; the settlement hasn't yet been disclosed. The state's legal bill to the law firm of Holland & Hart now adds up to nearly $600,000 - more precisely, $590,833.

A newsy week for summertime, from state legal woes and wins to Olympic cheer…

For the dog days of summer, there was a fair amount of news happening in Boise last week while I was off on vacation. Here are some highlights:

* Public records revealed that the state has sent another $15,760 payment to the private law firm it hired to defend the state Transportation Board against a wrongful-firing lawsuit from former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe. Lowe, the department's first female chief, recently settled her lawsuit, which charged both gender discrimination and political pressure; the settlement hasn't yet been disclosed. The state's legal bill to the law firm of Holland & Hart now adds up to $556,239.

* U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Candy Dale sided with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter in a lawsuit challenging the federal listing of slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The court decision requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit the issue; a jubilant Otter said he was “encouraged” that the court agreed the federal decision was “flawed.” The plant, a native desert flower found only in small parts of southern Idaho, was declared threatened in 2009 despite several years of efforts by the Otter Administration to develop a conservation plan. The primary threats to the rare flower are trampling by livestock, off-road vehicles, agriculture and other human activity.

* The Idaho Department of Lands announced that fiscal year 2012 saw a record timber harvest of 330 million board feet of timber from state endowment trust lands; that's about 35 percent of the total timber harvest in the state, though state-managed forests are only about 5 percent of Idaho's forest lands, and it's 150 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest. However, it's only 98.5 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest receipts; that's due to lower timber prices that have dropped significantly in the last five years.

* An archaeological dig by the University of Idaho in the heart of downtown Boise found artifacts dating back 130 years in an old well discovered on the Basque Block; items recovered included an intact decorative bottle of Gilt Edge ladies' shoe polish, marbles and jacks, and the head of a porcelain doll.

* A state prison instructor was arrested for having sexual contact with a prisoner, a felony; the female instructor taught at both the South Boise Women's Correctional Center and the South Idaho Correctional Institution, a minimum-security prison for men south of Boise.

* Boise Police raided six massage parlors in a sweep resulting in charges ranging from prostitution to licensing violations.

* State tax revenues for July came in 1.5 percent below forecast, $3.4 million down. All but one category, miscellaneous revenue, missed the forecast, which called for the month's general tax revenues to rise by 6.4 percent over last year's July revenues; instead, it was 1.5 percent lower.

* Idaho has seen an increase in fatal motorcycle accidents, with preliminary data showing 13 motorcycle deaths in the state so far, compared to six at the same time in 2011. Six of the 13 were in July. Most of those who died were men over age 40; those who went through the state-sponsored motorcycle skills training, STAR, or Skills Training Advantage for Riders, had a 79 percent lower risk of being involved in a crash.

* Olympic cycling gold medalist Kristin  Armstrong was welcomed home to Boise by a crowd of more than 1,000 at a group bike ride and celebration on Saturday, at which Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed it “Kristin Armstrong Day” in the state, and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declared Armstrong's almost-2-year-old son Lucas honorary mayor. It was also Armstrong's 39th birthday.

Popkey: State spends $$ to send Hart to ALEC confab, hire PR firm on Lowe case; IEA spends to back Repubs

Among a boatload of interesting items posted on the Idaho Statesman's Idaho Politics blog by columnist Dan Popkey are these:

* At least five Idaho lawmakers are off to Salt Lake this week for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, including defeated Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who is traveling at state expense, as is Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. Popkey reports that Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, the Idaho state chair for ALEC, opted to go at her own expense; read his full post here.

* In the primary election, the Idaho Education Association funneled $9,320 into a new PAC called Idaho Republicans for our Schools, which used the money for robo-calls supporting five GOP legislative candidates: GOP Sens. Shawn Keough, Tim Corder and Dean Cameron, and GOP candidates Stan Bastian and Alan Ward. Rick Jones of Rathdrum, IEA vice president, a Republican and the treasurer of the new PAC, told Popkey, “There are many Idaho educators who are Republicans. What we're saying is let's vote for Republicans who support public education, they're not mutually exclusive.” You can read Popkey's full item here.

* Word that Holland & Hart, the private law firm hired by the state to defend it against former ITD chief Pam Lowe's wrongful-firing lawsuit, spent $4,419 in state money to hire Gallatin Public Affairs Group for “litigation assistance” in the first half of 2010, including advice on how the lawsuit would be portrayed in the news media. Read the full report here.

State’s legal bill mounts for fighting Lowe wrongful-firing lawsuit

The state of Idaho's legal bill for fighting the wrongful termination lawsuit from former Transportation Director Pam Lowe: $540,479 and counting. Information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law shows that's how much the state has paid the Boise law firm of Holland & Hart for the case thus far; the case has now been settled, though final papers still are to be filed in court. The last payment was made March 8, according to state records. The Idaho Transportation Department hired prominent attorney Newal Squyres of the firm, who when hired was the president of the Idaho State Bar, to defend the state against the suit; Lowe won a major ruling on March 31, when a federal magistrate held that she was not, as the state had argued, an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause.

Lowe's lawsuit, which charged political pressure, sex discrimination and more in her dismissal, was filed in 2009 after the ITD board abruptly fired the professional engineer and longtime employee; she was ITD’s first female director.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today, asked about the state's three-year fight against Lowe's lawsuit and the resulting legal bill, said, “I'm not sure I'm allowed to say anything about anything - everything's sealed.”

Lowe: ‘I’m very pleased’

Former Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe, contacted at her new job in Delaware, said of her settlement with the state of Idaho in her wrongful-firing lawsuit, “All I can tell you is this has been resolved, and I'm pleased with the resolution. … I can't talk about what's in it. I just can tell you that I'm very pleased to have it resolved.”

Lowe said, “I'm just really excited about looking to the future.” She's currently working as financial director for the state Department of Transportation in Delaware. “I'm enjoying the challenges here and I'm doing a lot of fascinating, interesting things,” she said. “They hired me to work on some projects and I'm going to continue to do that. So I'm excited about the things I'm actually accomplishing here, but Idaho is my home and I do plan to return.” She added, “My house and my husband and my family are still in Boise, and that's still my home.”

Idaho settles wrongful firing suit from former ITD chief Pam Lowe

The state of Idaho has settled a lawsuit filed by fired former Transportation Director Pam Lowe, who charged she was illegally let go for standing up to political pressure and was discriminated against because she was female. Lowe was the Idaho Transportation Department's first female director; after she was fired, she was replaced by a man who is being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.

No information was immediately available on the terms of the settlement; Lowe had sought reinstatement in her job, back pay and benefits, and attorney fees and costs as well as damages for emotional distress. Just the back pay, benefits and attorney fees would add up to close to half a million dollars. Lowe , a professional engineer, was a longtime ITD employee, starting there in 1993 and rising to director in January of 2007. She was named the department’s first female district engineer in 2000.

In April, she won a key ruling in the case, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush ruled that Lowe wasn't an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause, as the state had argued. She contended 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. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

ITD: Disappointed, will consider appeal

The Idaho Transportation Department has issued the following statement on a federal judge's ruling over the weekend in favor of fired former ITD Director Pam Lowe:

“The department is disappointed in the ruling and will consider an appeal. Based on this ruling, the next step is to determine whether or not the Idaho Transportation Board provided due process to Ms. Lowe. The ruling does not address claims of gender discrimination and wrongful firing. No schedule has been set by the court to hear these claims.”

Lowe: ‘It was McGee, and it was blackmail’

“I am absolutely elated,” fired former ITD Director Pam Lowe said this morning, after a federal judge sided with her over the weekend in a key ruling in her wrongful termination lawsuit. “It absolutely vindicated me and what I had been saying, and that is that the board was happy with my work, I had done a good job, I had had nothing but positive comments from the board as well as certainly my formal evaluations, but that the board succumbed to political blackmail and pressure from John McGee when he ran that bill.”

McGee, then chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, introduced legislation in 2009 to strip the Idaho Transportation Board of the ability to hire and fire the director, though the bill didn't pass. “He was interested in helping his campaign contributors,” Lowe said, “and I didn't want to do what he wanted done with that contract, which was to throw a bunch more money at them that didn't need to happen, and he ran that bill to strip the board of their powers.” McGee, who resigned from the Senate this year in the wake of sexual harassment allegations from a female Senate staffer, couldn't immediately be reached for comment; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

In 2009, a multimillion-dollar contract with two Idaho firms to oversee major bonded highway construction projects in the state was being cut back; the lead firm, URS, formerly Washington Group, was a big donor to Gov. Butch Otter's election campaigns, as well as to McGee's. Lowe said the governor's chief of staff pressured her not to reduce the contract, and McGee's bill was in response to her move.

“I had more than one board member tell me that it was McGee and it was blackmail,” she said. “They had no reason other than pure politics to terminate me.” She added, “It was purely political reasons, and it was certainly not one of the four reasons that the judge has said needed to happen in order for a proper termination to occur.”

Lowe wins key ruling in her wrongful firing case as ITD director

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.

Court documents: Previous ITD director was secretly fired, given ‘graceful’ exit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho Transportation Department director was asked to resign in 2006 following a whistleblower complaint, a detail hidden from the public until court documents were released last week in a separate case. The papers, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, reveal circumstances of how former director David Ekern exited his job in August 2006. That month, Ekern said he was quitting to pursue “significant career opportunities.” But a whistleblower complaint from March 2006 alleged Ekern engaged in favoritism and “misuse of power and authority,” prompting Transportation Board members to vote in secret session to remove him. Members then gave Ekern “the opportunity to gracefully leave ITD.” The documents, filed by ex-ITD Director Pamela Lowe, Ekern's successor, seek to bolster her claim that she was illegally fired in 2009. You can read the full story here at spokesman.com.

Judge sides with Lowe in proposed decision

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush’s preliminary ruling in favor of fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe on a key point underpinning her wrongful-firing lawsuit, her argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause, as the state alleges.

Lowe contends her firing came because she tried to scale back a big contract with politically well-connected firms; 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’s since been replaced by a man who’s being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.

Preliminary ruling favors fired ITD director Pam Lowe in wrongful firing case

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has sided with former Idaho Transportation Department Director Pamela Lowe in a proposed ruling, setting the stage for her wrongful firing lawsuit against the state to proceed. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush says he’s giving Lowe and the Idaho Transportation Department until Jan. 14 to submit additional information that could alter the outcome. Bush indicated in the proposed decision late Wednesday that the Idaho Transportation Board was limited to firing Lowe for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or non-feasance.” The department’s lawyers argued Lowe could be fired for any reason. Lowe contends she was dismissed in July 2009 for political reasons, not for the four reasons outlined in Idaho law. Bush found evidence to conclude the Idaho Legislature provided guidelines governing when Transportation board members could fire a director to protect the agency’s leader from political pressure.

You can read the Request for Additional Briefing and Proposed Memorandum Decision and Order here.

Case proceeds, contract grows…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on developments in the Pam Lowe case today, in which the former ITD director is suing the state in federal court, alleging wrongful firing; meanwhile, the Idaho Transportation Department acknowledged that a controversial management contract that Lowe contends she was fired for trying to scale back has now swelled to $85 million.

ITD’s contract with Connecting Idaho Partners now up to $85M

The contract with Connecting Idaho Partners - the one that former ITD Director Pam Lowe contends played a key role in her firing - is now up to $85 million, according to the Idaho Transportation Department. The department signed an additional contract with the group, which consists of CH2M Hill and URS Corp., formerly Washington Group, in April for $14 million for management work related to the next $228 million worth of GARVEE bonds, which finance highway projects by borrowing against future federal highway payouts. In June of 2008, ITD signed another $26 million contract with CIP, that time to oversee $250 million in bonds; and the original contract, issued in August of 2006 and originally envisioned to total $52 million, ended up at $45 million after various reductions. That was for startup of the program and overseeing the first $215 million in bonding.

“We made reductions where possible,” said Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, noting that $7 million in work was pulled from the first contract and handed back over to ITD staff. The second contract, in 2008, started around $30 million, but was scaled back the same way to $26 million. “We’re following the legislative intent by bringing as much work back to ITD as possible,” Stratten said.

Connecting Idaho Partners won the huge management contract after a contentious process that saw an unsuccessful bidder crying foul; Lowe contends in her wrongful-firing lawsuit that she was pressured by the Otter Administration when she tried to cut back the contract with the politically well-connected firms, and then fired. The administration has denied her claims.

The three contracts ITD has signed with Connecting Idaho Partners cover a total of $693 million in bonding; the entire Connecting Idaho program, first promoted by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as a way to do 30 years worth of highway projects in just 10 years, originally was estimated at $998 million, but Stratten said cost savings and other cutbacks have lowered that to closer to $900 million. He said it’s not clear whether another contract still would be signed with CIP, but the final phase of Connecting Idaho would be mostly construction, which the department tends to manage in-house. “It’s yet to be determined if another one is required,” he said, noting that it’s up to the Legislature to authorize bonding each year. “If CIP’s services were required, it would likely be less than the $14 million of the latest contract, but that’s yet to be determined.”

Federal judge raises questions in Pam Lowe’s wrongful firing case

Federal Magistrate Judge Ron Bush raised questions at a court hearing today about whether fired ITD Director Pam Lowe actually was a classified state employee entitled to specific hearings and appeals; whether her lawyers’ arguments in her wrongful-firing case would have entitled her to serve in the position for life; and whether the question of if Lowe was an at-will employee or not should be referred back to the Idaho Supreme Court - a move that could delay the case for years.

The judge’s questions came up during a federal court hearing today on Lowe’s motion to decide a key point in her case now - whether the state’s transportation director is an at-will employee who can be fired for any reason or no reason. That’s the position the state has taken in the case. A specific state law says the transportation 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.” None of those grounds was cited when the Idaho Transportation Board fired Lowe last year; she’s charged that she was ousted for trying to scale back a big contract with politically well-connected firms; that she was fired without cause and without being allowed a hearing; and that she was discriminated against because of her gender, as the department’s first female director. Lowe has since been replaced by a man who’s being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.

B. Newal Squyres, a private attorney representing the state, told the court that the four reasons in the law are just examples of why a director can be fired. “They provide some guidance, they provide some examples, they counsel the board that the director is performance-based, but they’re not a limit on the board’s authority,” he told the court. The Legislature’s Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law, he said, is “irrelevant” because “it’s not in the statute.” The Statement of Purpose, which Lowe’s attorney, Erika Birch, submitted to the court to bolster her argument, says the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”

Lowe said after the hearing, “I thought Erika’s argument was really compelling. Clearly, the judge wanted to hear and gather a lot of information, which I thought was positive.”

Birch argued that grounds for dismissing the transportation director - which aren’t found in the laws about any other state department heads - were designed specifically to “provide at least one level of political insulation between the governor and the director.” The judge said if the director doesn’t violate the four grounds, “Is that person entitled to serve for life in that position then?”  “I think they are,” Birch responded. “I think the Legislature was singling out this position to give them a potential lifetime or until-retirement security in their position … unless those specific grounds are found.” She added that directors in the past have been removed only for cause. “We know that directors have traditionally held long tenures with the department.”
 
Neither side contended that Lowe was a classified employee subject to the state’s civil-service rules, but Judge Bush said he wasn’t convinced she wasn’t. “You may be comfortable” that she wasn’t, Bush told lawyers on both sides, “but I don’t know that I’m comfortable. … Then we have a whole different ballgame.” He also noted the possibility of referring the at-will question to the Idaho Supreme Court, though both sides said they thought the case was properly before the federal court, and Birch said such a move would “significantly delay this case by years.” Bush responded, “I’ve considered that, and that’s part of what I’m weighing.” He took the motion under advisement and will issue his ruling in writing.

Former ITD chief Lowe files response, hearing set for July in wrongful-firing case

Fired ITD Director Pam Lowe has filed her response to the state’s arguments against granting the core  of her wrongful-firing claims in a partial judgment, and Lowe’s lawyers contend the state’s arguments misconstrued case law, overlooked clear rulings from the Idaho Supreme Court that an employee isn’t considered “at-will” if the law limits the reasons for which she can be fired, and failed to address the Legislature’s Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law that says an ITD 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 original SOP, submitted to the court earlier by Lowe’s lawyers, says the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”

The board cited none of those reasons when it fired Lowe, instead saying her firing would improve “customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature.” Lowe contends she was fired for refusing to scale back a hefty contract with politically well-connected firms and that she was targeted for her gender; she was the first woman to head the department, and has now been replaced by a man who’s being paid $22,000 a year more than she was. The state has argued she was merely an “at-will” employee and could be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason, with no required hearings or other steps. It’s contended the list of reasons for firing the director are merely examples. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Ron Bush has scheduled arguments on Lowe’s motion - which centers on the “at-will” issue - for July. You can read Lowe’s response here; it was filed today.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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