The details of local guy Will Shaw’s Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) dispute with UVA read like a classic David and Goliath tale: Shaw, a UVA employee and Louisa county resident vs. UVA, a public entity, major local employer and big cheese.
“It’s a little spooky,” says local attorney Debbie Wyatt, who represents Dena Bowers, a UVA employee fired after sending a mass e-mail. “I feel [UVA] hasn’t had its feet held to the fire constitutionally in our local courts in a long time.
Shaw, a manager in UVA’s facilities management department, filed FOIAs in the fall of 2005 requesting market salary information from surveys conducted by UVA consultants. Shaw wanted the info to help him with hiring decisions. When Shaw’s FOIAs fell flat in court—UVA successfully argued the FOIA suit filed in Louisa County Circuit Court wasn’t in an appropriate venue—Shaw went to the General Assembly. Last session, the legislature changed the laws to now say citizens can sue public entities from their home turf.
Then Shaw got his reassignment notice. While he once had managerial oversight of about 200 employees, now Shaw is more of a paper shuffler.
“My sudden involuntary reassignment came on the heels of my successfully pursuing remedial legislation in the 2007 General Assembly session,” says Shaw. “It coincides remarkably with my activities as a private citizen.”
UVA disagrees, saying Shaw’s reassignment was in line with organizational changes that were in the pipeline. “All of the changes made through these reorganizations are to improve service to University customers and are in no way retaliatory,” says UVA spokesperson Carol Wood via e-mail. “The change in organizational placement for Mr. Shaw is meant to take advantage of his extensive Health System experience and expertise in program management and customer service.”
According to Shaw, his new role has no management responsibilities at all. “I get to work a 40-hour week instead of a 60-hour week. So in the greater scheme of things, I can’t complain.” Shaw’s salary was not reduced in his reassignment.
Yet Shaw is pursuing “administrative relief” through the state’s Grievance Procedures, though says he is not currently considering a law suit. He has refiled his FOIA requests for salary information from UVA.
Shaw wouldn’t be the first UVA employee to suffer the consequences of disagreeing with his employer. Dena Bowers is currently appealing her case that alleges her rights were violated when UVA fired her following an e-mail she sent with NAACP information that was critical of the University.
Bowers’ attorney, Deborah C. Wyatt, says, “There are others, people who have called me with stories. …It’s a little spooky that UVA is king around here and I feel it hasn’t had its feet held to the fire constitutionally in our local courts in a long time.”
Wood says via e-mail, “The University…maintains full compliance with all applicable state procedures and policies.”
Just what those applicable state policies and procedures are can be difficult to sort out. Staff at the Virginia Department of Employment Dispute Resolution did not return calls for comment.
But the state’s “Notice of Layoff or Placement” from the Virginia Department of Human Resources shows people who are reassigned can sometimes have little recourse. If an employee quits rather than be reassigned without a change in pay, that employee is not eligible for severance benefits.
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