BOISE – Idaho’s first-ever female transportation director was fired, in part, simply for being a woman, a lawsuit filed Monday charges.
Pam Lowe, who last week filed a “whistleblower” complaint against the state alleging that she was fired for resisting political pressure to favor a big campaign donor to Gov. Butch Otter, filed an amended complaint Monday bringing in six additional claims of rights violations under the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.
“Her gender was specifically referenced as a reason that she should not be promoted and/or that she would not be successful,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Lowe’s gender was a contributing factor to the board’s decision to terminate her employment, in violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.”
Lowe’s legal filing in 4th District Court in Boise repeats her earlier allegation that Idaho Transportation Board member Gary Blick, of Twin Falls, said “no little girl would be able to run this department, or words to that effect” and asked, “What are we going to do when she decides to start a family?”
Blick has declined to comment.
Lowe, a professional engineer and 15-year department employee, said that wasn’t the only instance of gender discrimination she suffered at the department. “I have some other information that I think will probably come out as part of the trial process,” she told The Spokesman-Review.
Lowe’s additional claims charge that the state Transportation Board violated both the U.S. and the Idaho constitutions in three ways: by engaging in sex discrimination, violating her right to equal protection; by firing her without citing any of the statutory reasons why a transportation director can be fired and without allowing her a hearing, violating her right to due process; and by impugning her name with “false allegations of unsatisfactory job performance,” hurting her professional reputation and “foreclosing other employment opportunities.”
Until the board fired her in July, Lowe had received only positive performance evaluations. Her lawsuit quotes from her last evaluation, in which the board said she “excelled,” “identified over $50 million in savings that will be directed to improved highway operations,” and “is an excellent manager and has exceptional ability as a professional engineer.”
Lowe filed a tort claim against the state in August contesting her firing. The state had 90 days to respond to the claim by settling it, but that deadline came and went last week without any settlement.
“I didn’t want to end up here,” Lowe said. “I am disappointed that the state did not respond to the tort claim.”
The state now has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit; that time frame could expand if the state chose to shift the lawsuit to federal, rather than state, court.
Lowe contends that she was fired because she insisted on cutting back a $50 million contract with a politically well-connected contractor to manage a string of bond-funded highway projects.
She said the board seemed to think it could push her aside because she’s female. “That sentiment was expressed by a member who is still on the board … that I’m just a woman,” she said. “I think they thought I’d just go away.”
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