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Eye On Boise

State files response to Pam Lowe motion

The state has filed its response to fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe's motion for a federal court to rule in her favor on most of her key claims in her wrongful-firing case without holding further hearings. In a 23-page memorandum in opposition to Lowe's motion, filed Thursday night just before a midnight deadline, attorney B. Newal Squyres argued that Lowe's attorneys misconstrued a long string of cases they cited to back Lowe's argument that she wasn't an "at-will" employee. Squyres argued instead that she actually was an "at-will" employee who could be fired at any time, without cause and with no requirement for hearings or other due process.

At issue is an Idaho state law that 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 the "at the pleasure of the board" part is the key part, and the listed reasons for dismissal are mere examples; Lowe argues that at least one of the listed reasons must be cited to fire an ITD director. Her attorneys submitted the Legislature's original Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law, which states that the director "shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause." Squyres, in his filing, dismissed that in a footnote as "a single page ... with the handwritten notation of 'S 1295' at the bottom of the document." You can read the full memorandum here, and click below for more on this story.

When Lowe was fired, the state Transportation Board cited none of the listed reasons, instead saying her firing would improve "customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature." 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 She's the first woman to head the Idaho Transportation Department; she's since been replaced by a man who's being paid $22,000 a year more than she made. Her motion deals only with the key issue of whether she was an "at-will" employee or not; the other claims including gender bias would be decided separately.

In the state's memorandum, Squyres, a private attorney retained by the state to handle the case, contends that the fact that the ITD director isn't hired for a fixed term means the director is an "at-will" employee. "The Board has the authority to remove the Director at its pleasure, and it may do so for, among other reasons, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance," Squyres wrote. The list of reasons for dismissal, he wrote, "only provides direction or guidance to the Board to exercise its discretionary authority to remove." He also contended Lowe waived any property right in her employment by signing an offer letter that listed her salary and stated the job was "at-will," while Lowe's attorneys argue such a letter can't override state law. Now that the state has filed its response to Lowe's motion, Lowe has a week to respond to the response, and then the judge can either decide the issue, or schedule oral arguments to hear from attorneys on both sides before deciding.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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