Ivor van Heerden, LSU settle wrongful termination lawsuit

Lundi Gras 2013 is one Ivor van Heerden probably will never forget.

One the eve of the state’s biggest party, the renowned hurricane scientist got the good news he’d been fighting years for: LSU had agreed to stop fighting his lawsuit, which claimed the university had destroyed his career in retaliation for his investigations that showed Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans was caused by flaws in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ levee system.

Monday, a week before the Feb. 19 trial, U.S. District Judge James J. Brady signed an order conditionally dismissing the suit against the LSU Board of Supervisors and four current and former university officials. Neither side would comment on the terms of the settlement.

Ivor van Heerden

Ivor van Heerden

“Obviously, it feels like a tremendous weight off my shoulders,” van Heerden said Tuesday. “My wife and I are finally free to decide how we want to live and what to do next with our lives.”

Van Heerden first gained international notice prior to Katrina when the LSU Hurricane Center, which he helped steer, produced painfully accurate forecasts of the storm’s path and impact on the New Orleans levee system.

He became a hero to many in south Louisiana when investigations by his Team Louisiana forensic engineering group helped to determine that the city flooded because poorly designed and built levees and floodwalls collapsed — not because they had been overtopped by a storm surge greater than they were designed to repel, as the corps originally claimed.

A few months later the corps’ own internal investigation reached the same conclusion.

But the public acclaim for van Heerden did not echo among the LSU administration, which first tried to muzzle the outspoken scientist, then discredited and finally fired him.

Van Heerden filed suit claiming he had been fired because the university was concerned his criticism of the corps would cost it research grants, that his firing had not followed university protocol, and that he had been wrongly denied tenure.

LSU pursued with its defense even after losing several key rulings leading up to the trial, a stance that prompted The Lens’ Jed Horne to write a column questioning the motives and the wisdom of that strategy:

Journalists and members of the LSU community who are aware of the ongoing persecution are disgusted and somewhat mystified that the university has chosen to go after van Heerden, rather than quietly settle this shameful case. It seems especially odd in light of the state’s increasing vulnerability to catastrophic storms and van Heerden’s proven expertise in anticipating their wrath—not to mention the high cost of protracted litigation as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes devastating cuts to the university’s budget.

Van Heerden said he believes Horne’s piece helped move LSU to settle.

“I think his piece probably played a big role, because it likely helped open some eyes at LSU,” van Heerden said. “I had been trying for some time to send signals to LSU that I preferred healing to more conflict, but it seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

“My big concern lately had been what the impact of a trial would have on the great opportunity the state finally finds itself in in regards to the coast. We finally have a chance for some big money coming in because of the BP settlements, we have the Master Plan [for the coast], and we have some really positive forward movement.

“I was concerned that a trial would dig up a lot of bad publicity for the state, something we didn’t need right now.”

Van Heerden said he has no immediate plans, other than to relax, get back to his sailboat now anchored in Virginia, and turn his attention to several book ideas.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
About Bob Marshall

From 2013 to 2017, Bob Marshall covered environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories and issues of Louisiana’s wetlands was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. In 2012 Marshall was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Loyola University School of Communications Den of Distinction.

  • We here at Levees.org are glad that this sorry ordeal is finally over for Dr. van Heerden and his family.

  • Also, this article is 100% better than The Advocate’s article last night on this topic.

  • There are many, like me, that knows what it’s like to try to tell the truth about NOLA and (1) the levees, (2) the 17th Street Canal, (3) the constant breakdown of the pumps, (4) the residential houses on both sides of the 17th street canal that should be relocated to strengthen the 17th Canal, (5) that pump station that was created to drain the UNDERpass at I-10 and the railroad tracks because the cemeteries needed to be seen by the public instead of just making an overpass.

    Unlike you hear in the media, there are no companies truly and financial investing in NOLA without public or local funding. All have some significant tax credit (e.g.movie companies), government funding(new medical center), elevation compensation (Costco) or state funded job training (General Electric). By the way, all these new digital, tech, or software companies didn’t “invest-a-dime” (well maybe a dime) to relocate to NOLA just like the movie companies didn’t really invest as it costs them almost nothing to relocate to NOLA. Plenty (but not all) of the companies could easily move if a hurricane struck as they rightfully and wisely should be able to do so.

    The defenders of NOLA are in denial or just don’t get that alcohol, their Big Easy attitude, corruption and lack of ethics and morals are the still the main reasons why companies have left, New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Louisiana. If NOLA was really the most up and coming city and brain magnet, why did Chevron leave? Or why is Avondale leaving? Or where is the money for the streets, schools, lights, NOPD consent decree, etc from alcohol taxes or Mardi Gras/Jazz Fest or the last 6-7 Superbowls?

    The 34 minute lights out this past Superbowl and shooting on Bourbon Street during the height of Mardi Gras weekend are going to supersede all the NOLA media spin, editorials or op-ed pieces and will be remembered for a long time…far longer than some NOLA Tourism PR top 10 or brain magnet spin article or video.

    If NOLA was such an “up and coming city”, Brain Magnet, and top 10 in all these lists or polls, where’s the money for basic services like streets, lights and enough police?

    Here’s a tip for you NOLA defenders. While not smart legally, Listen to guys like Perricone that say that NOLA has to get over their love affair of alcohol, beer and wine as it’s a big reason why companies have left NOLA for the last 50 years and why decision makers still say no to NOLA. If you don’t show up for work or school on time, or at all, because you stayed up night-after-night drinking and having a good time, a company (big, small or mom and pop size) cannot open it’s doors in the morning, or in the first place, as so and so didn’t show up for work.

    Or this student was too drunk and missed class and didn’t do their homework or study hard enough for this test.

    Or their parents were too drunk and didn’t make sure their kids got to school or did their homework.

    When companies say they can’t find good, trained, or an educated workforce in New Orleans or Louisiana, it means the above attitude and constant alcohol is your number one problem because it’s what NOLA does each and every night, or weekend.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Follow me on Twitter at @twitter-629916832:disqus

  • I too am glad that this “sorry ordeal” is over and hope that Ivor fades away never to be heard from in Louisiana again. This self-absorbed dilettante was really not helpful to either the State or his university in the wake of Katrina, and some of his pronouncements have either been proven wrong or are unsupported by facts. There is no doubt that the Corps bears some responsibility for the failings of the New Orleans levee system, but not to the degree that either Ivor or others have blamed them for. Ivor’s scurrilous comments as a BP hired gun about the minor effects of the BP oil spill should have alerted everyone to the type of person he really is and where his true interests lie-himself. He was an embarrassment to the State after Katrina as he paraded around the networks with his “I told you so” attitude stating things that were both factually incorrect and harmful to the recovery effort.
    The State settled the lawsuit for an amount that it calculated it would have had to pay in attorney’s fees through trial and subsequent appeals, nothing more. After Jill Craft’s contingency, Ivor will be lucky to see $150,000. If Ivor really had any type of case, the sum he settled for is a pittance in comparison…..Good riddance and please do let us hear from you again!

  • Guns_A_Blazin’

    I too was wrongfully terminated from LSU in 2003 by then Chancellor Mark Emmert and the Board of Regents, based on an inflammatory and factually incorrect newspaper article in the Baton Rouge Advocate (written by then reporter Ned Randolph III, son of the former LA State Senator Edward G. Randolph, Jr.). I was involved in a minor traffic skirmish on campus May 3, 2003, when two students in a van pulled an illegal U turn by the Student Union and ran me off the road. They did not bother to stop to see if I was injured but just drove away, later admitting that they “may have run” me off the road. I chased them down and confronted them; afterwards they slunk over to the campus police and asserted to Capt. Ricky Adams that I had assaulted them, but could show no injuries or evidence of an assault.
    Mr. Randolph reported this incident in the Sunday Advocate (5/4/2003) using his brand of advocacy journalism, making it sound like I was an out of control motorcyclist raging against two helpless students, despite the fact that I had explained to him in a telephone interview earlier that I was a motorcycle safety instructor (certified by MSF) and that I had not been cited/arrested as he claimed. He maliciously identified me by name, age and also printed my home address while keeping the identities of the two students (Moran and Montgomery) anonymous, leaving the impression to any reader that I was the “perpetrator” and they were “victims”.
    On Monday morning, May 5, I was called into the Department’s Office where I faced a stern, outraged Vice Chancellor Mariane Augustine and was summarily asked to explain my actions. At that point, I realized that I was possibly facing some legal jeopardy, so I informed her I would be glad to once my attorney could be present.
    To make a sordid story shorter, I was summarily suspended from teaching, not allowed to hold review sessions or see students alone in my office, and denied the ability to teach the summer course I had already been assigned.
    The only negotiations I then had with LSU was with their attorneys “working out a severance package” with my attorney. Emmert refused to see me even after many of the faculty of my department had personally written him
    on my behalf, expressing their distress at the University’s over reaction to this incident. I took my case before the Faculty Senate and they issued a statement that there was no cause for termination. Nonetheless, LSU preceded
    mindlessly to insure that I would no longer be a part of the University community I had contributed.
    So, Dr. van Heerden, I am glad that Attorney Jill Craft was able to help you confront LSU and force them to at least reach a settlement. Just remember you are not the only faculty member LSU has treated shamefully and
    I wish you the best of luck in your future academic endeavors.