RYAN J. FOLEY
IOWA CITY — Iowa's three public universities have made cash payments totaling more than $1.3 million to resolve employment disputes and issues since 2011, according to public 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 given to workers at a cost of $1.3 million, a figure that doesn't include dozens of other cases in which universities reimbursed employees for unspecified amounts of back pay or the cost of benefits. Nor does it count instances in which employees were allowed to remain on the payroll for a short period of time after their duties were reduced or eliminated.
Most of the lump-sum payments involved the University of Iowa, at a cost of more than $866,000. The settlements covered a range of disputes — including pending and threatened lawsuits, grievances and discrimination complaints filed with state and federal agencies — and often required employees to resign or retire.
The most expensive deal 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 not been accused of wrongdoing and 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. That's about all I can say," he said. "I'm not entirely sure why or what transpired."
While legal settlements have always been public record in Iowa, many of the agreements had never been released and contained clauses that required both sides to keep them confidential. A few that were paid out of the state's general fund had been approved by the State Appeal Board and made public, but most others were settled internally and didn't need to go through that step.
Gov. Terry Branstad's administration recently divulged more than 300 similar settlements since he returned to the governor's office in 2011 that resolved disputes with executive branch employees. Those included two dozen with payments totaling more than $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.
Branstad said he wasn't aware of those confidential agreements, and he signed an executive order March 24 banning state agencies from including confidentiality clauses in future state settlements. The Iowa Attorney General's Office says those clauses were not enforceable since the agreements were always public records under state law.
Branstad also required his administration and the regents to post future settlements in easily recognizable locations on their websites. The Department of Administrative Services has complied with that order, but the regents haven't responded to inquiries on how they plan to do so.
University of Iowa spokesman Joe 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 most, but not all, involved disputes. Some of them were plans 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.