You probably read about the firing of a 32-year employee that roiled the state’s educational TV cauldron, preceding a power struggle between the Arkansas Educational Telecommunications Network Commission and its nonprofit foundation (see Documents Shed Light on AETN Power Struggle).
But now details are emerging about a settlement offer floated by Mona Dixon, the longtime AETN Foundation COO who was dismissed by AETN Executive Director Courtney Pledger in February. The big demand, advanced by Dixon’s attorney, Melva Harmon of Little Rock, is $285,594.
That figure amounts to three years of Dixon’s base salary at the foundation, AETN’s nonprofit fundraising arm. In return for that lump sum, along with legal fees, health insurance payments and about $10,000 for Dixon’s unused sick time, she would forgo any wrongful termination lawsuit. The terms are listed in an April 5 letter from Harmon to the foundation board’s executive committee, a document obtained by Arkansas Business through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The letter, to foundation board Chair Lynne Rich, Vice Chair Mike Rohrer and Secretary/Treasurer Jonathan Rhodes, was attached to an email relayed to Pledger.
Dixon has appealed her firing, saying she suffered retaliation from Pledger after questioning funding mechanisms for a contract with a content consultant, Rachel Raney, who was hired by Pledger.
Harmon’s letter says that a deal to avert a lawsuit would help preserve the foundation’s reputation and fundraising efforts.
Despite Dixon’s request for an investigation and a hearing before the board, Harmon wrote, “it is my understanding that no action has been taken by the Board to investigate or resolve this issue.”
Sources close to the foundation say that Dixon was an at-will employee.
Fundraising Skills Noted
Harmon’s letter noted Dixon’s long and crucial role in foundation fundraising, helping to bring in $60 million for AETN. “Under her leadership, the AETN Foundation currently has the largest number of members who have ever contributed,” Harmon wrote. “Also during Mona’s tenure as COO, AETN Foundation endowment funds have more than doubled in value.”
In return for the financial terms it gave, the letter said Dixon would agree “to cooperate with the AETN Foundation … by providing advice, assistance, and her knowledge of any information requested by the AETN Foundation.”
The letter notes that the foundation contributes 11% of an employee’s salary to a retirement plan, and it asks for three years’ worth, about $30,000. The terms would require the foundation to pay Dixon’s health and dental insurance for 18 months or until she gets coverage through another employer.
The foundation would pay Dixon’s legal expenses and provide up to $20,000 worth of outplacement assistance or career transition services. Dixon’s exit would be listed as resignation rather than termination in her employment file, and she’d get “a positive letter of reference written on Foundation letterhead and signed by the Chair of the Foundation …”
Mutual confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses would be part of the deal, and “Courtney Pledger will also sign this Agreement and will be bound by the language of the positive letter of reference, confidentiality and non-disparagement sections of this Agreement,” the letter says.
Dixon said in an email to Arkansas Business that she couldn’t comment; Harmon didn’t respond before press time. Rich, Rohrer and Rhodes didn’t reply to questions on whether the board had any response.