July 16, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho settles with fired female transportation chief

By The Spokesman-Review
 
State of Idaho photo

Pam Lowe
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - 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 said, “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.”

“All we can do is acknowledge that it has indeed been settled,” said ITD spokesman Mel Coulter.

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.

In 2009, a multimillion-dollar contract with two Idaho firms to oversee major bonded highway construction projects across 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 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 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; several 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 contract has since ballooned to millions more than originally planned.

Lowe started work in March as financial director for the state Department of Transportation in Delaware, after two and a half years of unemployment.

She claimed victory after the April ruling, which ITD said it might appeal; Lowe said then, “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.”

Lowe said today, “I’m just really excited about looking to the future.”

She said, “I’m enjoying the challenges here and I’m doing a lot of fascinating, interesting things. They (Delaware) 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.”

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