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Fired prof seeks $3 million settlement

By Erin Mahoney
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 12, 2000
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Fired UA professor Marguerite Kay has offered to settle her newest lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents to the tune of $3 million.

Last month, Pima County Superior Court Judge Stephen Villarreal issued a final ruling declaring that the University of Arizona took "arbitrary and capricious" action in firing Kay, and returned her case to university jurisdiction.

Kay was fired in July 1998 after the Committee of Academic Freedom and Tenure found her guilty of scientific misconduct, but Villarreal found that the university didn't follow proper procedures.

But Villarreal's decision also said that the court did not have the power to grant back pay or return Kay to her job, prompting the new lawsuit, said Don Awerkamp, Kay's attorney.

"We have informed the university that we expect her to be reinstated with back pay," Awerkamp said. "I don't know what they'll do."

Awerkamp said that although there is no formal time limit for the university to decide when to reinstate Kay, they had hoped for a reaction earlier.

"For me, it's too late already," he said.

University officials referred comment to UA spokeswoman Sharon Kha, who said there is no decision yet regarding Kay's case.

"That's the question we're trying to address right now, as to what is the procedure for reinstating someone," Kha said. "We're making progress."

Kha said Kay has not been reinstated because the university has not decided how to approach the scientific misconduct charges against her.

"Three different sets of faculty looked at this (Kay's research) and did their best to follow procedure and found there was a problem," she said.

Awerkamp said the case will proceed even if Kay is reinstated, although the amount of the lawsuit may be reduced.

The $3 million figure is based on lost salary, benefits, and damage to reputation incurred by her dismissal, he added.

"She's already entitled to that based on what we've already won," Awerkamp said. "Reinstating her with back pay will certainly not make her whole."

The lawsuit also names several other UA faculty members and administrators - including UA President Peter Likins and former vice president for research Michael Cusanovich - as defendants, but Awerkamp said a $3 million settlement would not cover the accusation against these individuals, which include emotional distress and punitive damages.

"The $3 million is only as to the contract claim," he said. "They (the other claims) don't have a number attached to them."

But Cusanovich, now a biochemistry professor, said it is likely that he and the other individual defendants will be dropped from the lawsuit if it goes to trial because they were acting "within the scope and duty" of university requirements.

He added that he believes Kay has no case against him. "The so-called conspiracy part... that's just completely wacko," Cusanovich said. "In this country, you can put a few bucks on the table and claim anything you want."

But the claim may never make it to court, said Jane Eikelberry, the attorney representing the university.

"The university is open to settling it," she said. "If there's any way to settle it, it should be settled."

Awerkamp said he has not had a response from the university on the settlement, but that Kay wants the case to be over.

"She wants to go back to her research," he said. "Her research is her life."

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