Ex-spokeswoman sues Iowa Board of Regents over layoff, pay
IOWA CITY — A longtime spokeswoman for the Iowa Board of Regents alleges in a lawsuit that the decision to eliminate her job two years ago was motivated by age and gender discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Sheila Koppin, also alleges unequal pay based on gender because her duties were absorbed by two newly hired men, including one who was given a salary $24,000 higher than what she earned in her 29th year.
The lawsuit also accuses the board’s executive director, Robert Donley, of “negligent misrepresentation” for allegedly dodging questions for months about whether her job was likely to be eliminated during a reorganization. It says she needed the information so she could evaluate whether to take an early retirement package the board offered, which she declined before being let go weeks later.
A board spokesman declined comment on the lawsuit, which seeks damages for lost pay and benefits.
The board eliminated Koppin’s job as communications director on June 30, 2015, saying her duties could be absorbed by others. The move came two weeks after the board hired Josh Lehman into a newly created position as “senior communications director” at a $100,000 salary. Koppin was 53 and had been with the board, which governs the state’s public universities, since 1986. She made $76,000.
Months later, the board hired Brock Ascher into a newly created electronic media assistant position. The lawsuit alleges that it took those two men “to do the same communications work Koppin satisfactorily performed for over 10 years.”
Koppin first asked Donley about her job’s future after he informed her in January 2015 of his plan to create the senior communications director position, which was aimed at improving the board’s relationship with the news media, the lawsuit says. He told her that it would be evaluated once someone was hired.
In the spring, Koppin again asked Donley about her future as she considered whether to apply for the early retirement program that would have made her eligible for additional health and retirement benefits. He dodged her inquiries, the lawsuit says.
The board’s then-general counsel, Thomas Evans, told Koppin that if her job were eliminated in a reorganization, she would be entitled to 90 days’ notice. In fact, the board eliminated Evans’ job on June 5, 2015, after he declined the early retirement and he received the 90-day notice and pay, the suit says.
But it says Donley informed Koppin on June 26, 2015, that her job would be eliminated four days later and that she didn’t qualify for the 90-day notice because it wasn’t a reorganization.