Supreme Court Upholds Firing of Univ. of Iowa Official After Sexual Assault Investigation

By Erin Jordan, Reporter

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By Adam Carros

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed Friday a district court ruling dismissing a lawsuit by a former University of Iowa vice president fired in the wake of a 2007 student sex abuse scandal.

The high court found Phillip Jones, former vice president for student services, failed to prove UI President Sally Mason acted outside the scope of her job when she made public statements about Jones when she fired him in September 2008.

Jones also wanted to compel discovery of hundreds of communications, which the Supreme Court agreed with the defendants were private.

Jones, who worked at the UI for 27 years, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in June 2009 against Mason, the UI, Iowa Board of Regents and Stolar Partnership, a St. Louis firm hired by the university to investigate the UI’s handling of the high-profile sex abuse case.

Two football players were charged with sexually abusing a female UI student-athlete in a residence hall room. The men were found guilty of lesser charges.

The Stolar report, released in September 2008, placed blame on Jones and Marc Mills, the UI’s vice president for legal affairs, for bungling the UI’s investigation of the incident and alienating the victim. Mason fired them both.

Jones and Mills disagreed with the Stolar report about their involvement in the incident. Jones also alleged that Mason made false and defamatory statements about him.

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde dismissed Jones’s lawsuit in January 2012.

She ruled Mason was entitled to immunity from the defamation and invasion of privacy claims as an employee of the state acting within the scope of her duties. The judge also ruled there was no evidence Mason acted with malice or recklessly in making her statements regarding Jones' firing.

The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed this decision and agreed with Hoover-Grinde’s ruling that Jones’s defamation claim against Stolar failed because the statements the firm made about Jones were part of Stolar’s obligations to the regents.

In February, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mills alleging he was improperly fired in 2008. U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt found Mason could fire Mills because he was an at-will employee, the Associated Press reported.

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