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Former UI administrator's lawsuit dismissed

BY BETH BRATSOS | FEBRUARY 02, 2012 7:20 AM

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The case of a former University of Iowa vice president who sued the university for wrongful termination and defamation was dismissed Wednesday.

Phillip Jones, a former UI vice president for Student Services, sued President Sally Mason and the university in June 2009, nine months after he was fired.

The firing and resulting lawsuit followed an alleged sexual assault involving two Hawkeye football players in a Hillcrest dorm room in October 2007.

Nearly a year later, the UI, Mason, and the state Board of Regents hired the St. Louis-based Stolar Partnership to investigate the assault and the university's handling of the incident. Stolar later released a report criticizing the university's handling of the investigation. The report specifically named Jones and former UI General Counsel Marcus Mills for their roles.

Mills also later sued the UI for wrongful termination.

Former football player Abe Satterfield eventually pleaded guilty to assault with intent to inflict serious injury, a simple misdemeanor, and Cedric Everson's case went to trial, ending in a reduced charge of simple assault.

On Wednesday, Jones declined to comment on the dismissal, instead referring all questions to his attorney, who said they plan to appeal the case to the Iowa Supreme Court.

"Every decision is subject to review by the Supreme Court, and this is one of them," said David Dutton, an attorney in Waterloo. "We have the right to make an appeal, and either the Supreme Court or the court of appeals will hear our appeal."

Jones has 30 days to appeal the dismissal; a hearing will be scheduled at a later date, Dutton said.

Sixth District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde agreed with Mason's request for summary judgment, saying Jones did not meet the standard for proving Mason, a public official, defamed him. Hoover-Grinde's ruling said Jones did not present any evidence that "President Mason acted with malice or acted recklessly in making the statements." Hoover-Grinde dismissed all Jones' claims, disagreeing with the wrongful termination charge and siding with the Stolar Partnership, which Jones also named in the suit.

According to court documents, the defendants considered Jones an employee at-will "who served at the pleasure of the president of the university … [and] had no statutory, common law, or Constitutional entitlement to continued employment …"

UI law Professor Patrick Bauer said the at-will fact gives employers flexibility in termination cases.

"If I get up in the morning feeling grumpy, I can fire an at-will [employee]. I don't have to have a good cause. However, the at-will doctrine is being developed in the courts," he said. "Even though you don't need a good reason, you can't have a bad one."

Bauer said summary judgment is granted in instances of factual or legal insufficiency in the evidence presented by the plaintiff.

"Usually the plaintiff has the burden of persuasion. He has to show that a, b, and c happened on preponderance of the evidence," he said. "If the grant of summary judgment is affirmed, story's over. It comes to an end. If they reverse [the decision] there is usually a trial. They would be able to present their case to a jury."

Calls to the UI general counsel's office regarding the case's dismissal were not returned.


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