- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s public universities have paid more than $1.3 million to resolve employment disputes since 2011, a price tag that far exceeds the cost of similar agreements that have roiled the executive branch, according to records released Wednesday.

The Iowa Board of Regents released more than 150 settlement agreements reached since January 2011 with current and former employees of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, in response to a request by The Associated Press.

Roughly three dozen lump-sum payments were made to workers at a cost exceeding $1.3 million, which doesn’t include dozens of other cases in which universities reimbursed employees for back pay when suspensions were rescinded. Nor does it include instances in which employees were kept on the payroll for a time after their duties were cut.

Most of the payments involved the University of Iowa, at a cost of $866,000. Settlements covered a range of disputes - pending and threatened lawsuits, union and faculty grievances and discrimination complaints filed with state and federal agencies - and often required employees to resign or retire.

The most expensive involved former pathology professor Morris Dailey, who was paid $275,000 after agreeing to retire in 2012. Reached in California, he said he was surprised his agreement was made public. He said he had no complaints with the university when he took what he described as an early retirement for personal reasons.

“I loved working at the university, but they made an offer that was a reasonable thing not to refuse,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure why or what transpired.”

University spokesman Joe Brennan said the payment to Dailey was part of a “mutually agreed upon exit strategy for a tenured faculty member.”

While legal settlements have always been public record in Iowa, many of them had never been released and contained clauses that required both sides to try to keep them confidential. A few that were paid out of the state’s general fund had been approved by the State Appeal Board, but most were settled internally and didn’t need to go through that step.

“The parties agree, to the extent practicable and allowable by law, to maintain the confidentiality of this agreement,” reads a February 2013 resignation agreement for Iowa State associate vice president for human resources David Trainor, who was kept on the payroll for two months after vacating his office and paid $17,500. In exchange, Trainor said he would never sue.

Some payments went to workers who were challenging firings or professors who were fighting internal disciplinary proceedings. State lawyers redacted details, claiming they were confidential personnel matters.

One such agreement dated August 2013 allowed ISU veterinary microbiology professor J. Glenn Songer to keep his $163,000-salary through Dec. 31. Until then, he was required to stay off campus unless he had permission, clear out his office and laboratory and have no face-to-face communications with colleagues or students.

Songer, who doesn’t have a listed number, was required to take online training courses related to preventing violence and harassment. He was warned that if he “engaged in behavior similar in nature to the behavior complained of,” he’d be terminated.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration recently divulged more than 300 settlements that resolved disputes with executive branch employees since 2011, including two dozen with payments totaling $500,000. Branstad ordered the release of those settlements after coming under fire for the administration’s prior practice of offering some employees larger settlements if they agreed to confidentiality provisions.

Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll assured lawmakers earlier this month such offers never happened. Branstad fired him after documents indicated at least two were offered payments in exchange for confidentiality.

Branstad said he wasn’t aware of any confidential agreements, and he signed an executive order March 24 banning agencies from including confidentiality clauses in future settlements. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office says those clauses were not enforceable since the agreements were always public records.

Branstad also required his administration and the regents to post future settlements in easily recognizable locations on their websites. The DAS has complied with that order, but a spokeswoman for the Board of Regents hasn’t responded to inquiries on how universities plan to do so.

Senate Democrats have kept the “secret settlements” scandal alive through legislative hearings, hoping to tarnish Branstad in an election year.

Brennan said settlements often save taxpayers money by resolving problems quickly and avoiding litigation. Each case is unique, but the university considers factors such as the merits of claims, impact on the workplace and anticipated costs, before settling, he said.

Brennan cautioned that not all involved disputes. Some of them were for transitioning to retirement, such as a 2012 agreement in which the late Iowa football defensive coordinator Norm Parker stopped coaching but was given a $150,000 one-year staff position.



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