From the Associated Press
State officials have spent more than a half-million dollars in court defending the firing of the first and only woman to lead the Idaho Transportation Department, public records show.
Idaho’s legal bill so far totals $540,479 in the discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Pam Lowe, according to public records requested by the Spokesman-Review (http://bit.ly/NhUBk1 ). Both sides confirmed Monday that they had reached a settlement in the three-year legal fight, but neither would divulge the terms.
Idaho’s tab could increase, as final papers still need to be filed in court, the newspaper reported.
State officials made their most recent payment to the private Boise law firm, Holland & Hart, on March 8. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office said it lacked the resources to handle the case when hiring Holland & Hart to defend the state against Lowe’s claims.
In a federal lawsuit, Lowe alleged her 2009 firing was a power play to help the governor and his big campaign donors. She also claimed gender discrimination.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter wouldn’t comment Tuesday on the state’s mounting legal tab in the Lowe lawsuit.
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything about anything,” Otter said.
Neither state officials nor Lowe have publicly shared financial and other terms of the settlement agreement.
“I’m very pleased to have it resolved,” Lowe said earlier this week.
Lowe is now working as financial director for the state Department of Transportation in Delaware.
In Idaho, her termination was preceded by criticism from lawmakers during the legislative session as Otter and some lawmakers were considering an increase in the gas tax and other revenue sources to bolster the agency’s budget for road and bridge maintenance.
Some Republican lawmakers worked to get support for a bill that would give Otter power to replace Lowe, claiming she didn’t do enough to lobby for the initiative.
But Lowe argued that’s not why she was let go.
Idaho code gives the transportation board the authority to remove a director for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance and nonfeasance in office. But Lowe made a case that none of those reasons justified her dismissal, and she provided the court with positive job reviews.
Lowe claimed she refused to bow to threats by governor’s aides not to interfere with and scale back a contract originally worth $50 million. The contract benefited URS Corp. and CH2M Hill, two engineering companies that at the time of Lowe’s firing, had given the governor at least $22,000 combined since 2005.
She said the transportation board succumbed to political pressure when they asked her to resign on May 11, 2009.
Lawyers for the state denied those allegations, and argued that the agency director serves at will and can be hired and fired at any time. The case turned in Lowe’s favor in April when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush rejected the state’s argument that Lowe was an at-will employee who could be fired at any time.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com
From the Associated Press