Univ. of Iowa ordered to release settlement agreement

Thursday, January 10, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa must release a settlement agreement with a former medical school employee who was allowed to quietly resign after a personnel dispute, a state appeals panel ruled yesterday.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled the settlement with the former employee is a public record and should be released in response to an open-records request by the Associated Press, which was filed nearly two years ago. The public has the right to know how university money is used to settle disputes among faculty members, the court added.

“It’s a good decision for the public,” said Mike Giudicessi, a Des Moines attorney representing the AP. “We appreciate the thoroughness and speed in which the Court of Appeals handled this case.”

The AP had asked for copies of resignation agreements with medical school employees at a time when radiology professor Malik Juweid, who has since been fired, was trying to negotiate one himself. The university released several such agreements in response, but notified one former employee of the request and gave him time to challenge its release.

That employee reached an agreement in June 2010 that changed his job duties — but kept his salary — for a year before he was allowed to resign June 30, 2011. The agreement also promised a $100,000 bonus if he were to resign before Dec. 31, 2010 — a perk that was not collected.

The employee filed a legal action under the pseudonym John Doe, arguing that his agreement was a confidential personnel record under Iowa law. The AP intervened in the case and joined lawyers representing the university in arguing that the document should be public.

A judge agreed in February 2012, but Doe appealed. He argued that he expected the agreement would remain secret and that provisions in the agreement may affect relationships with colleagues and his ability to get future employment.

The court disagreed, saying that a balancing test considering Doe’s privacy rights against the public’s need to know favored disclosure.

“We conclude the gravity of the invasion into plaintiff’s personal privacy does not exceed the public’s interest in the use of public funds,” Judge David Danilson wrote for a unanimous three-member panel.

Despite yesterday’s ruling, the record will not be immediately released. Doe’s attorney, Phil Mears, said he was considering asking the Iowa Supreme Court to review the case and had 20 days to do so.

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