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Archive for Tuesday, May 19, 2009

KU seeks summary judgment in 2004 firing of art museum director

May 19, 2009

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A Kansas University attorney on Tuesday morning told a judge that KU officials acted properly in 2004 when they fired the longtime director the Spencer Museum of Art.

But a defense attorney for former director Andrea Norris argued to Douglas County District Judge Sally Pokorny that KU officials did not follow proper policy during the firing.

Norris filed the civil lawsuit in 2006, seeking $112,000 in damages against KU and claiming the firing was degrading and damaging to her career.

Sara L. Trower, associate general counsel for KU, has filed a motion seeking summary judgment and asking Pokorny to rule in favor of the university. Sarah Brown, an attorney for Norris, said the former director had factually supported her claims and was entitled to a trial.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the two sides argued over whether then-Provost David Shulenburger had authority and grounds to remove Norris on March 2, 2004.

Trower said Norris was aware that the key phrase of her employment was that it was a “serve at the pleasure of appointment.”

“Meaning that it could be terminated at any time, without any reason, with or without cause, and with or without notice,” Trower said.

However, Brown said the policy of the Kansas Board of Regents includes “pleasure of” language that designates a university’s chief executive officer, which would be the chancellor, not the provost.

“It’s kind of a back-door way to try to say that she’s an at-will employee and we can fire her at any time,” Brown said.

But KU contends the policy gives the chancellor leeway.

“The Board of Regents delegates to the chancellor the authority to further delegate his duties or responsibilities to others. That’s routine,” Trower said.

Brown said there was no evidence that KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway had delegated his authority to deal with Norris’ appointment.

“The provost did not have that authority under this appointment, under these policies and procedures,” Brown said.

Pokorny said she would rule on KU’s motion later.

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