BOISE - 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.
“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,” Lowe told The Spokesman-Review. “I’m certainly happy to put this behind me. … I’m proud of what I accomplished at ITD.”
ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said in a statement, “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. 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 settlement stated, “Based on the result of the lengthy mediation, the parties, without conceding liability or admitting any wrongdoing, and both parties simply wanting to buy their peace through the resolution of the lawsuit, have determined that it is in their respective best interests to reach a full and final … settlement of all disputes.”
Terms of the settlement became available today after final papers were filed in federal court advising that the lawsuit has been resolved.
Lowe, the department’s first female director, charged she was fired without cause, because she resisted political pressure to avoid reducing a giant contract with a politically well-connected firm; she also alleged gender discrimination.
The settlement includes a positive job recommendation for Lowe, signed by the chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board.
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.
She was fired in 2009, after she clashed with staffers for Gov. Butch Otter and with some lawmakers over her efforts to cut back a multimillion-dollar contract with two well-connected Idaho firms to oversee major bonded highway construction projects across the state. Lowe was trying to trim the $50 million Connecting Idaho Partners contract to less than $30 million; it has since ballooned to more than $83 million.
The lead firm, URS, formerly Washington Group, was a big donor to Otter’s election campaigns, as well as to that of then-Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell. Lowe said the governor’s chief of staff pressured her not to reduce the contract, and when she resisted, McGee introduced legislation to strip the Idaho Transportation Board of the ability to hire and fire the director. The bill didn’t pass, but the ITD board was concerned; four months later, it fired Lowe.
“I had more than one board member tell me that it was McGee and it was blackmail,” Lowe told The Spokesman-Review in April. “They had no reason other than pure politics to terminate me.”
The lawsuit settlement includes a “non-disparagement” clause, requiring both sides to refrain from disparaging the other.
Lowe started work in March as financial director for the state Department of Transportation in Delaware, after two and a half years of unemployment.
Terms of the $750,000 settlement call for $187,500 to go to Lowe’s attorneys, the employment law firm of Strindberg and Scholnick, while the remainder, $562,500, goes to Lowe. The state will pay that amount to an annuity Lowe has purchased, which eventually will make monthly payments to her.
The state’s total cost also includes the $590,833 bill it’s already paid 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.
After three years of fighting the lawsuit, with former Idaho State Bar President Newal Squyres of the Boise firm Holland and Hart as its lead attorney, the state had lost at every turn. Both sides agreed to mediation in July, and the settlement was reached, but at that point, the state insisted on a confidentiality clause, preventing any of its terms from being revealed.
Prior to the filing of the final documents with the court today, the confidentiality clause was lifted; the state already faced numerous public records requests from reporters and members of the public asking for the terms of the settlement.