HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 dismissal of a former state tourism director who was fired because the agency said she didn't spend millions of dollars meant to promote tourism and filmmaking in the state.
Elizabeth "Betsy" Baumgart was unsuccessful in arguing that her firing as administrator of the Montana Tourism and Promotion Division was motivated by politics, not the agency's bottom line.
Baumgart was appointed tourism director in 2002 by then-Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican. She served in the role for eight years until Commerce Director Tony Preite retired. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, appointed Dore Schwinden to the post. About three weeks later, in August 2010, he fired Baumgart, citing several reasons including that she did not understand the budgeting process.
The agency said Baumgart left millions of dollars unspent each year, opening the possibility that the Legislature would revert that money to the state general fund.
She filed a grievance. A hearing officer found the agency was justified in discharging Baumgart for failure to adequately manage the budget, but rejected four other reasons that state listed.
Baumgart filed a lawsuit arguing she was fired without just cause, was politically discriminated against and that the agency violated her privacy rights and defamed her by providing confidential employment-termination documents to a newspaper.
A District Court judge granted the state's motions for summary judgment on the political discrimination and illegal firing claims.
Baumgart's attorney, Michael San Souci, said a jury should be allowed to decide whether the state had just cause to fire Baumgart.
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