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Settlement in UTMB lawsuit

Hot off the presses.

University of Texas regents today settled an open records lawsuit, agreeing to give hiring priority to 2,400 employees laid off at UTMB in December, one of the plaintiffs said.

In return for dropping the lawsuit, the regents also agreed to allow a Harris County judge to act as an arbitrator in disputes over rehiring, said Tom Johnson, Texas Faculty Association executive director.

The association and three Galveston residents filed the lawsuit last month saying that the firings were illegal because they were done in violation of the open meetings act. The suit accused the regents of convening four closed meetings, three by conference calls.

Barry Burgdorf, UT system vice chancellor and general counsel, said that the agreement to give fired employees priority was already policy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

I’m sure there will be a longer version of this story in the morning. Given that this lawsuit was only filed in December, I have to think that the quickness of this settlement is indicative of UTMB deciding that its position was not tenable. The first ruling, over venue, went for the plaintiffs. Given that UTMB was going to be staying in Galveston and was already rehiring laid-off workers, you have to wonder what there was left for them to go to the mat over. Be that as it may, kudos to the winners for forcing the issue. I’ve got a press release from the Texas Faculty Association, which has some related news on its blog, beneath the fold.

Five months after filing an Texas Open meetings Act Lawsuit to protest a widespread reduction in force at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, The Texas Faculty Association and Galveston Plaintiffs Dr. Kay Sandor, Dianna Puccetti, Allen LeCornu and Dr. Thomas Albrecht have settled their suit with the University of Texas System and its Board of Regents.

Nearly three thousand employees were initially laid off in November 2008. The settlement announced today provides that all Rif’ed employees will remain on an official “Re-Employment List” for 36 months from the date of termination. As jobs are restored, they will be advertised on UTMB’s website, and former employees on the Re-Employment List have up to 20 business days from the date the job was posted to express interest in the job, at which time the former employee will be interviewed.

The former employee will be hired if qualified and as long as there is not another person more qualified. “Qualified” is based on factors such as experience and education, and UTMB cannot use comparative cost to re-employ as a reason to deny reemployment.

If a former employee is not rehired, s/he may demand binding arbitration with well-respected, independent former Harris County Judge Susan Sousson of Houston. The arbitrator will decide whether UTMB had good cause to deny re-employment; however the burden of proof is on the former employee. AAA arbitration rules will apply. The decision of the arbitrator will be final.

“The Texas Faculty Association applauds all those who have been so instrumental in effecting this settlement with the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System. TFA is pleased that in these difficult times it has been able to advocate for the protections and job status of its members at UTMB through the tireless efforts of Tom Johnson, Executive Director of TFA,” said TFA President Dr. Kenneth Buckman, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas, Pan American.

“Also, George Reamy, TFA Member Advocate, spent great energy and many hours pushing the rights of the TFA membership at UTMB and brought to light the unfairness of the practices imposed on the faculty and other employees there, often leading the struggle to obtain justice,” Buckman added.

“Particular kudos go out to Joe Jaworski, who carried the weight of our complaint, fighting for not only TFA but the citizens of Galveston and the larger UTMB community. Finally, we would like to thank the UT System Board of Regents for coming to the table and carving out solutions to a difficult situation,” said Buckman.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Jaworski enthusiastically endorsed the settlement: “Today’s agreement provides for a fair mechanism to help former UTMB employees reclaim their jobs. UTMB will rebuild on Galveston Island, and as it rebuilds jobs will be restored and workers will come home to the alma mater of Texas medical education and one of the finest hospitals in Texas.”

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