October 20, 2015

University of Iowa Settles Case, Avoids Issue of Ombuds Privilege

By paying $150,000 to a former employee, the university has avoided a trial and a resolution of the university's claim that its Ombuds has a legal privilege. The lawsuit was filed three years ago by Janis Perkins, the former study abroad director, who claimed she was laid off after complaining about bullying and taking a leave for depression. The Associated Press reports that it has obtained a copy of the settlement agreement.

According to an article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

For nearly two years, Perkins’ lawsuit was entangled in a dispute over whether [Cynthia] Joyce, the university’s ombudsman, could be forced to testify. Joyce’s office seeks to informally mediate conflicts and concerns brought by students and employees.
Conlin, Perkins’ attorney, sought to depose Joyce to investigate how she responded to Perkins’ complaints and what she discussed with Perkins’ superiors.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which defended the university, refused to produce Joyce for a deposition, asserting the ombudsman’s office has a duty to keep its communications confidential to encourage people to file complaints. The office promises “strict confidentiality” and says it will only reveal information if there is a risk of physical harm or a court order requiring disclosure.

Conlin argued that no such privilege exists for the ombudsman under Iowa law or court precedent, and sought to compel the testimony. The settlement was reached before a hearing on the dispute that was to take place last week.

Related posts: AP Report Maligns University of Iowa Ombuds Office (Editorial); University of Iowa President Speaks Out on Behalf of Ombuds Office; Past and Present Ombuds Defend University of Iowa Office; Ombuds Cases Remain Steady at University of Iowa After High Profile Year; University of Iowa Advised Ombuds When Responding to Gun Permit Inquiries; Law Journal Article Updates Quest for Ombuds Privilege.

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