Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

by
Plaintiff could not prove the City discriminated against him because of his multiple sclerosis (MS) when the City was unaware he had MS. Plaintiff applied for a full-time job as a firefighter with the City of Marion. The City denied Plaintiff’s application after a physician reported that Plaintiff was not medically qualified for the position, but the physician did not inform the City that MS was the reason Plaintiff was found unfit for firefighting. Plaintiff later sued the City and the physician’s employer under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) alleging disability discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment for all defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) without any requested accommodation by Plaintiff, the City had no duty to second-guess the physician that Plaintiff was medically unqualified for the position; and (2) the physician was not liable for aiding and abetting the discrimination without proof that the City intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff. View "Deeds v. City of Marion, Iowa" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s claims challenging his termination. Plaintiff, a former chief administrative law judge of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Bureau in Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), alleged retaliation under the whistleblower protection provisions of Iowa Code 70A.28 and that Defendants continued to retaliate against him when he sought other positions in state government. Plaintiff further alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy based upon the same conduct. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that Plaintiff could not bring his claims because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies available to merit employees. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff’s ability to bring a direct claim under section 71A.28 is not precluded by the availability of an administrative remedy under Iowa Code 8A.415; and (2) the district court correctly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim. View "Walsh v. Wahlert" on Justia Law

by
The equitable tolling doctrines of the discovery rule and equitable estoppel are available with respect to the 300-day filing limitation in the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Plaintiff, an applicant for the position of Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner at Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), brought a failure-to-hire claim against the IWD. The district court dismissed the claim, concluding that Plaintiff could not escape the 300-day filing requirement in the ICRA through application of the discovery rule or equitable estoppel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the discovery rule and equitable estoppel apply to the 300-day filing limitation in the ICRA; but (2) Plaintiff was not entitled to toll the filing limitation through application of either the discovery rule or equitable estoppel. View "Mormann v. Iowa Workforce Development" on Justia Law

by
Retaliatory discharge claims are not categorically reserved for at-will employees. A state administrative law judge (ALJ) brought suit alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy after she was terminated for giving unfavorable testimony about the director of her division to the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee. The ALJ’s employment was covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the common law claim of wrongful discharge is reserved for at-will employees. The district court agreed and dismissed the case. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the ALJ’s status as a CBA-covered employee did not preclude her wrongful-discharge claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the common law tort of retaliatory discharge against public policy is generally available to contract employees. View "Ackerman v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court affirmed the decision of the workers’ compensation commissioner that Claimant was not entitled to healing period benefits under Iowa Code 85.34(1). Claimant filed a petition seeking workers’ compensation benefits after developing bilateral carpal tunnel injuries allegedly arising out of and in the course of her employment with Employer. Employer admitted liability and authorized Claimant to undergo medical care with its chosen medical providers. Claimant, however, sought medical treatment from an unauthorized physician. The physician performed two surgeries on Claimant, and Employer refused to pay healing period benefits for the time Claimant was recovering from the unauthorized surgeries. The commissioner concluded that Claimant was not entitled to healing period benefits because Employer provided a valid authorization defense. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that where Claimant received unauthorized medical care she was not entitled to healing benefits. View "Brewer-Strong v. HNI Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court denying Employer’s motion for summary judgment on Employee’s lawsuit filed under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) alleging that Employer discriminated against him based on his age, sex, and national origin. Matthew Jahnke, an employee of Deere & Co., worked as a factor manager at Harbin Works in Harbin, China under a contract with a Deere Chinese subsidiary. As discipline for Jahnke engaging in sexual relationships with two Chinese employees, Jahnke was ultimately removed as the factor manager, repatriated back to the United States, and assigned to a position of lesser authority and lower pay in Waterloo, Iowa. Jahnke filed suit under the ICRA. In its motion for summary judgment, Deere claimed that the ICRA did not apply extraterritorially and that Jahnke based his claims on allegations of discriminatory acts that occurred outside of Iowa. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the ICRA does not apply extraterritorially; and (2) because Jahnke failed to show that either he or Deere was located within Iowa for purposes of the alleged discriminatory act, Jahnke had no claim under the ICRA. View "Jahnke v. Deere & Co." on Justia Law

by
A corporation does not have family members and therefore cannot qualify for the family-member exception to the employee-numerosity requirement in the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Plaintiff worked for Defendant, a small insurance agency, and alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, the sole owner’s husband. Defendant, a subchapter S corporation, employed the owner, the owner’s husband and two other family members, Plaintiff, and another nonfamily member. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ICRA claims on the grounds that it employed fewer than four individuals, not counting the family members. The district court denied summary judgment, concluding that a corporate employer is ineligible for the family-member exception to the ICRA contained in Iowa Code 216.6(6)(a). The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant could not avail itself of the family-member exception. View "Cote v. Derby Insurance Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court awarding Plaintiff her attorney fees and expenses. In this action alleging wrongful discharge and retaliation, the district court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff. The district court awarded Plaintiff fees and expenses. After several appeals, the court ultimately awarded Plaintiff a total sum of $223,792. The Supreme Court set the fee award at $241,700 and the expense award at $5664, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by using Plaintiff’s attorneys’ currently hourly rates or by using the percentage reduction method to reduce the total requested fees and expenses; but (2) the district court abused its discretion in the manner it used the percentage reduction method and by not awarding Plaintiff any of the expenses she requested in her application for fees and expenses. View "Lee v. State" on Justia Law

by
This case involved claims brought against various state officials for damages related to public employment. Plaintiff was an Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. At issue in this interlocutory appeal were four counts alleging violation of due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on these claims finding that there are no private causes of action for violations of the Iowa Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding that Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment on Counts VI and VII where (1) the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution is self-executing; (2) classic preempt doctrine does not apply to the question of whether a Bivens-type damage remedy is available through the Iowa Constitution; and (3) the different nature of the interests protected weighs in favor of allowing a Bivens-type claim to go forward against Defendants. View "Godfrey v. State" on Justia Law

by
In this employment discrimination case, prejudicial errors in four jury instructions required a new trial. Plaintiff filed claims against her former employer, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff on both counts and awarded damages in the amount of $1.4 million. Employer then filed a motion for new trial, which the district court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) workers may bring a direct-liability negligence claim under the ICRA against an employer for supervisor harassment, but the plaintiff must prove that the employe knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate remedial action to end it; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting expert testimony on legal standards; but (3) the district court misinstructed the jury in four jury instructions, necessitating a new trial. View "Haskenhoff v. Homeland Energy Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law