Pam Lowe case costs Idaho $1.3 million

Just to settle the former ITD director’s lawsuit, the state paid $750,000.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comAugust 23, 2012 

In 2009, Sen. John McGee and Idaho Transportation Department Director Pam Lowe collided when McGee tried to pass a bill to give Gov. Butch Otter the authority to fire the ITD director.

The bill failed. But three months later, the ITD board fired Lowe.

McGee went on to become the No. 4 Republican in the Senate; Lowe was unemployed before finding a new job in Delaware.

Fast-forward three years.

On Wednesday, McGee was led to jail in handcuffs for violating his DUI probation and pleading guilty to disturbing the peace after being accused of sexually harassing a Senate aide.

On Thursday, Lowe released the details of a $750,000 settlement of her wrongful-firing suit against the state.

She told the Statesman that she didn’t want to discuss McGee’s fall from grace.

“I feel sorry for his family, especially his children,” she said.

What happened?

When Lowe, a 15-year department employee, suddenly lost her $143,000-a-year job leading the state transportation agency, she refused to go quietly. She sued the state, alleging gender discrimination and political pressure to go easy on contractors who had contributed to Otter’s campaign — claims the state scoffed at.

In her lawsuit, Lowe alleged that her 2006 promotion to director drew this response from one male board member: “No little girl would be able to run this department. ... What are we going to do when she decides to start a family?”

Lowe also claimed that she was targeted for trying to scale back a construction-management contract benefiting Washington Group (now URS) and CH2M Hill, which had contributed at least $22,000 to Otter. Lowe said the $50 million contract has since morphed into $100 million for work ITD could have handled in-house.

What are the terms of the settlement?

Of the $750,000, $187,500 goes to Lowe’s attorneys, Strindberg and Scholnick. The remaining $562,500 will be paid to Lowe in monthly payments of about $5,000 for 10 years starting in October 2013.

The Transportation Board also agreed to write a letter saying Lowe performed satisfactorily in her ITD career.

The settlement also contains a clause for requiring neither side to disparage the other.

Didn’t the settlement have a confidentiality clause?

Yes, but about two weeks ago, Lowe’s attorney, Erika Birch, said the state’s lawyer told her that it wanted to undo the confidentiality clause. Lowe was agreeable.

“I never wanted that,” she said. “The state insisted on that. It rubbed me wrong, but the state insisted it was a deal-breaker, so to just move on, I agreed.”

ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said, “The confidentiality provision was removed by ITD to provide full transparency in the signed settlement and its terms.”

Did the state admit it was wrong in firing Lowe?

No. Under the settlement agreement, the state does not admit any liability.

The 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,” said Stratten. “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.”

How much has the state paid to defend the case?

In March 2010, the state contracted with a private law firm, Holland and Hart, after the Idaho Attorney General’s Office said the state’s lawyers were too busy to represent the ITD in the lawsuit.

The attorneys’ fees and other costs for the defense of the case now total $614,646.56, according to the Idaho Department of Administration.

What does Lowe say about the settlement?

“I am celebrating,” Lowe said. “I am proud and pleased to be completely done with this. I am ready to move forward.”

Lowe now works for the Delaware Department of Transportation, helping implement some of the cost-saving and performance measures she said she was trying in Idaho when she was fired.

Lowe still has a house in Idaho and wants to come back someday. “I am looking forward to returning to Idaho, to my family and my friends,” she said.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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