AU president’s settlement agreement covers everything from money to media releases

Auburn University to pay $4.5 million to Steven Leath

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - An open records request reveals Auburn University will pay its former president Steven Leath $4.5 million in separation pay.

Leath and the Auburn University Board of Trustees mutually agreed to part ways following extensive discussions over leadership, according to a news release in late June.

At that time, we weren’t aware that news release, its contents, and how the university and Leath would respond to media inquires was one of many details covered in the separation agreement. It’s part of a clause that prohibits both parties from making disparaging comments about those involved in this settlement, strictly limiting discussion to the spirit of the official release confirming Leath’s departure. This clause even prohibits the university from discussing what funds are being used to pay the settlement. It would be illegal to allocate state-funded appropriations for this payment.

Leath served two of his five year contract, which offered an annual base pay of $625,000. Leath is earning more through separation pay than if he would have served out the remainder of his contract, which would have equaled $3,125,000.00. With two years base salary plus the severance pay, he’s walking away with $5,750,000.00, not including supplemental differed retirement, which the university funded at more than one million dollars.

Leath’s employment contract signed in July 2017 explicitly outlines the university’s obligations should the two parties separate before the end of the agreement. If Leath retired or was fired for cause, the university would not be obligated to pay the remainder of his contract. However, if he was terminated without cause, Leath would receive salary and benefits through 2022. The contract stipulates the parties are to work to settle any disagreement before moving forward with resignation or termination.

"If a dispute arises out of or related to this agreement and the dispute cannot be settled through direct discussions, Auburn and Leath agree they shall first endeavor to settle the dispute in an amicable fashion including the use of a non-binding mediator…".

Leath’s resignation letter is dated June 21, 2019; the settlement agreement was signed on June 28, 2019.

The Board appointed retired Auburn President Jay Gouge to serve in an interim capacity until a permanent president is named.

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