April 12, 2010 in Idaho

Fired ITD director says case law is in her favor

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Lawyers for fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe are pushing for a decision in her favor on most of her key claims, based on a long string of cases they’ve identified that back Lowe’s argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee, as the state contends.

Among documents filed in the federal court case Monday was the official “Statement of Purpose” for the 1974 law that created the transportation director’s post. It states that the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”

The law itself says, “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 state contends that those reasons are just examples, and the important part is “at the pleasure.” But in a motion for partial judgment filed Monday, Lowe’s attorneys say the history shows otherwise.

“This statement of purpose … could not be a clearer indication of the legislature’s intent to limit the board’s discretion in removing the director only for good cause,” the lawyers argued in court documents.

Plus, they identified case after case in which similar or identical laws were found to mean employees couldn’t be dismissed except for one of the listed reasons. The Idaho Transportation Board cited none of those reasons in dismissing Lowe, instead saying her firing would “help the department continue improving customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature.”

The state, in legal documents filed in the case, contends that Lowe was fired for not adequately dealing with the state Legislature, which it contends meant she was doing a poor job despite good reviews for her internal management of the department.

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 She’s the first woman to head the Idaho Transportation Department; she’s since been replaced by a man who’s being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.

Newal Squyres, the private Boise attorney retained by the state to handle the case, said of the motion filed Monday, “I have seen it, I have barely read it, and I certainly haven’t analyzed it. We will review the brief and respond in due course.”

The state has three weeks to respond to the filing.


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