Selected Case Summaries – Employment Discrimination
Lionel Foster v. The City of Mason City (2014)
Foster had served the City of Mason City for 41 years and from 1978, he was the director of the Mason City Human Rights Commission. He was widely recognized as the best director of a local human rights agency in the State of Iowa. His agency received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal financing each year. Because of his handling of complaints against family and friends of the mayor and city council members and general hostility to civil rights, they began a campaign in about 2008 to eliminate the effectiveness of the Commission. They were ultimately successful. On July 1, 2013, the City of Mason City terminated it’s only African American full-time employee that it had ever had after 41 years of exemplary service. Lionel Foster was 75 years old and intended to continue to work for another 5 years or more if possible. The case was settled for $240,000.00.
Steer v. American Ordnance, LLC (2004)
Jim Steer is an engineer. He started working at what was then the Army Ammunition Plant in Middleton on November 18, 1974, and worked his way up to being one of the highest-ranking engineers in the plant. On March 6, 2001, Jim was notified that his position was going to be immediately reallocated and he was offered a demotion to Production Supervisor, which he had to accept in order to mitigate his damages. At this time, Jim was the oldest employee in Production Engineering and had the most years of service. What really happened is that Jim’s position was simply renamed and filled by a thirty-three year old who Jim had to train. A few months later, a second person who was forty-seven was hired into the plant in the exact same classification as Jim’s classification. Jim sued for age discrimination, but continued throughout the litigation to work as a production supervisor. He was forced to work the worst shifts in the worst locations, but he persevered.
The litigation was lengthy and contentious, with multiple problems with discovery which resulted in sanctions against the Defendant. Shortly before trial, Jim settled his case and retired.
Watts v. IES Utilities (2001)
Blaine Watts was a training instructor at the Duane Arnold Energy Center, Iowa’s only nuclear power plant. The Center began a downsizing program, and selected older workers close to retirement age to be terminated. Blaine was 58 years old when they placed his position “at risk,” refused to transfer him to 8 other positions for which he was the best qualified person, and hired younger people for each position. The case was tried to a jury in the Northern District of Iowa in October of 2001. The jury awarded Blaine about $680,000. In post-trial motions, the court adjusted the jury’s verdict, added front pay and attorney’s fees of about $526,000 and costs of about $74,000.
Bleimehl v. Eastman Kodak (1997)
Ed worked for IBM for 30 years as a sales representative, account manager, and territory manager. He received outstanding reviews and performance awards. In July 1988, Eastman Kodak bought IBM’s copier business. Ed was recruited to stay with Kodak as a senior marketing representative. Shortly after the acquisition, he came under the supervision of three very young managers, who set out to discredit and remove him. The new managers made derogatory age-related remarks to him, raised his sales goals to unattainable levels, much higher than the younger sales people, removed part of his sales territory, reassigned some of his best customers to younger representatives, denied him the opportunity to work an adjoining open territory, and sent him out of his territory for useless training during his final working period.
Despite the effort to reduce his sales, Ed remained in the top half of all salespeople in the district and in his last months was frequently one of the highest achievers in the district. In order to justify terminating him for “not making goal,” his managers fired him before the last quarter, which was always the best quarter for sales. After he was terminated, the goals of all the other sales representatives were adjusted so his age-related discharge would be less obvious. Without the adjustments, almost none of the sales representatives in the Minneapolis District would have met their sales goals. Ed was the only one fired. The only other sales representative who was over fifty was forced into retirement during the same period. Ed was replaced by a much younger person, whose sales territory was enlarged, and whose goals were significantly reduced. The case was tried to a jury, who awarded Ed damages in excess of $1 million and found that the discrimination was willful, which would have doubled some parts of the damages. Ultimately, the judge reduced the jury’s verdict to $855,024 and set aside the jury’s finding of willfulness. However, the judge added 10% interest annually from 1993 and awarded attorneys fees of $329,487.10. 1997 WL 33322218.
Tysdal v. Security Savings Bank (1997)
Shirley Tysdal started working as a teller in 1976. By 1984, she was promoted to bank branch manager. The bank was caught in the savings and loan problems and was taken over by the Resolution Trust in 1991. In 1994, Security purchased the bank. Shirley remained the branch manager and vice president. Throughout her employment, Shirley was evaluated annually and was rated highly. She came under new supervisors in January, 1995. Shirley was suddenly the subject of unjustified criticism. She asked for and received her first formal job description in March and in April, her new supervisors said she was “making progress.” On May 19, 1995, without explanation and without warning, she was fired. At that point, she had been employed for nearly 20 years. She believed she was the victim of discrimination on the basis of age. Her case was tried to a jury in 1997 and she was awarded $60,000 in back pay and emotional distress damages. The Court added $39,500.00 in liquidated damages for willful violation of the Age Discrimination Act; $66,256.00 in front pay, plus attorneys fees and costs.
Gallion v. Cerro Gordo County (1996)
After thirty years of excellent service, Arlene was terminated as Deputy Auditor because Linda Collins, the Auditor, allegedly needed to save money because of the Iowa Trust Scandal. Arlene was forty-nine years old. The reasons given for Arlene’s termination were all shown to be pretextual during a three-day hearing before an Administrative Law Judge under the auspices of the Mason City Human Rights Commission. Though it was true that Mason City suffered a substantial deficit, the real reason Arlene was the sole employee in the Auditor’s Office who was terminated was because of her high age-related salary. The Administrative Law Judge awarded Arlene $162,843 in back and front pay and $15,000 in emotional distress damages. The Judge also awarded attorney’s fees and costs in an amount to be determined in a separate proceeding. Before the attorney’s fees hearing was held, the County agreed to pay Arlene a total of $200,000 including attorney’s fees and costs.
DISABILITY – OBESITY
Middleton v. Security Savings Bank (1997)
Mary Middleton was hired as a customer service representative in July 1994. She was unable to stand for lengthy periods because she was obese. She requested and was provided a stool to use. No one complained about her work performance and her reviews were excellent. On May 18, 1996, her supervisor told her she was being transferred to a different branch where she would be a drive-up teller. She learned that she would be required to stand all day. She reminded her supervisor she could not stand for long periods because of her obesity and therefore she could not accept the position. He never responded to her request for accommodation and she was never even formally terminated. This may be the first case ever tried to a jury involving obesity as a disability. Two physicians testified that Mary’s obesity was caused by her genetic predisposition, and resulted in a substantial disability. The jury awarded her $49,000 in back pay and emotional distress. The court added $40,431 in front pay, plus attorney fees and costs.
DISABILITY – OTHER
Disabled Female Employee v. Employer
Plaintiff worked for employer for more than 10 years. She had slowly progressing Parkinson’s Disease. She was an exemplary employee and loved her job as executive assistant, until she came under the control of a new supervisor who mocked her disability and harassed her because of it and generally refused to accommodate her disability in any way. Her Parkinson’s disease was aggravated by the stress that he caused her. She left work on short-term disability and the case was settled for a confidential amount.
Perkins v. The University of Iowa (2015)
Janis Perkins began working at the University of Iowa in 1994 as the assistant to the Office of International Education and Services for Study Abroad. By 2010, she was the assistant dean of International Programs and the director of Study Abroad. The programs and her duties had increased exponentially over the years she was employed. She consistently received both high marks on her annual review as well as high praise for herself and the programs she directed. Janis was occasionally disabled by two chronic diseases, but the University had always accommodated her illnesses which took very little time away from work. Just a few weeks after a positive performance evaluation, Janis was shocked when she was put on a formal performance improvement plan (PIP). The 12 specific areas that were mentioned in the PIP were also surprising because they had not been mentioned ever before or they were resolved or they were simply not her job responsibility. The individual defendants spent the next 4 months bullying Janis until she was finally hospitalized with an aggravation of her chronic conditions. The individual defendants expressed doubt that she was really disabled and placed unheard-of reporting requirements on her during her illnesses. It was at that point that she retained counsel who tried to negotiate a return to work in the future under more favorable conditions. When that was unsuccessful, she hired us to file a complaint under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. While she was still off on disability leave her position was supposedly “eliminated” as part of a comprehensive “reorganization” of the department. That so-called “reorganization” followed none of the University’s rules for reorganization. Janis believed it was a pretext to get rid of her because of her disabilities. After filing suit against the University and the individuals involved, taking many depositions and examining thousands of pages of records, the case was settled for $150,000.
Kylee Ploessl v. City of Ames (2018)
Kylee is a firefighter. When she got pregnant, she expected to be able to work on light duty when her obstetrician said her regular duties were too dangerous for her, for the other firefighters, and for her fetus. The Chief denied her request because he said the fire department did not have a “light duty policy.” However, firefighters injured in the line of duty and also pregnant women on the fire department command staff were given light duty. This happened two years after the Iowa Supreme Court decided McQuistion v. City of Clinton, so the City was in direct violation of the law. The case was quickly settled.
McQuistion v. City of Clinton (2015)
Karen McQuistion was the only female firefighter and had worked for 10 years in Clinton when she became pregnant. She asked the chief if he would put her on light duty when she became unable to continue to fight fires. He said no, despite the fact that firefighters were put on light duty if they were injured on the job and female police officers were allowed to work on light duty when they became unable to do full duty because of pregnancy. Karen continued to fight fires until her doctors said she could not do so safely because of exposure to dangerous and toxic materials and also because she could not fasten her safety equipment around her waist. She sued and lost at the District Court level but appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court where she won. The Supreme Court did not accept the City’s many excuses, including it would cost too much or it was not in the Union contract. Shortly before her case was decided, the United States Supreme Court had reached about the same conclusion under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Basically, if leave or special considerations are granted to any worker for any reason, the employer must give those same things to a pregnant worker unless the employer can prove that doing so would constitute a huge burden on it. Shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court made its decision, the City of Clinton settled Karen’s case covering the economic losses and emotional distress, attorney fees and costs. Clinton also corrected its discriminatory policies by providing that any pregnant employee would be given light duty when she was unable to perform her regular duties according to her physician, without exhausting sick leave or any other leave.
African American Children v. Convenience Store (2007)
Three African American children, ages twelve to thirteen went to their neighborhood convenience store to buy playing cards for the family gathering nearby. The assistant manager accused the children of shoplifting with no evidence whatsoever. She demanded that the children empty their pockets. The children had nothing in their pockets but the money given to them by their family to buy the cards. Nevertheless, the assistant manager cursed the children and demanded that they leave the store and never return. As the children left the store, one of their mothers drove up. After the boys told her what had happened to them, she confronted the assistant manager who provided several excuses for her conduct, all of which proved to be false. She provided more contradictory excuses to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. We accepted responsibility for the case after talking to the children and comparing each of their recollections with the provable facts. The children settled for a confidential amount a few days later.
Mure, Apodaka and Roby v. Big Lot Stores, Inc., David Stone, Greg Kruse, Joe Noyes (2006)
The three women all worked at the Big Lots store on Merle Hay Road. Daisy and Sarita are African American and Linda is Hispanic. They were harassed on the basis of their race, ethnicity, and discriminated against in pay and promotions. When they complained, they were fired. We settled their cases for a confidential amount.
Vivian v. Madison (1998)
Wendy began her employment with UPS in 1994 as a package car driver. She was promised full-time permanent employment, but her supervisor refused to assign her to her own route and she actually worked only a day a week on average. Wendy’s co-workers told her that the only reason she was hired was because she was a “double minority” – both African American and female. White males hired after her were assigned permanent full-time employment. She was also subject to racial slurs during her employment. Madison fired her twice on trumped-up charges. She was ordered reinstated the first time but fired again a month later. She filed suit against UPS and against Madison directly. After the Iowa Supreme Court made its decision. This case established that supervisors and other individuals can be held personally liable for their own discriminatory acts under Iowa Law. The case was settled. Vivian v. Madison, 601 NW 2d 872 (Iowa 1999).
Female Police Officer v. Chief of Police and Police Department
Plaintiff joined the police force, attended the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and began her duties with the assistance of another officer, BK. Throughout her employment, BK made sexual remarks and requests to the female officer, who rebuffed him. She tried ignoring him, avoiding him and even changed her shift to work different hours than he did. However, he would not stop his conduct and it got worse and worse. Finally, she filed a complaint with the chief of police. BK was suspended and the investigation into his conduct resulted in several other women coming forward with similar complaints. He resigned. However, the female officer became the victim of an unrelenting campaign of retaliation. There were suddenly lots of concerns about her “performance” though nothing specific was ever identified. She was told she was displaying a lack of “confidence” in the performance of her duties. She was marked late one day and received a reprimand. The chief suggested that police work was probably not for her. Her every move was scrutinized. She was continually criticized for things that all officers did. Finally, the chief fired her after placing her on leave and stripping her of her gun which belonged to her personally. The case was settled after it was filed in district court.
Arrick v. Power Company (2018)
Yvonne started working in a clerical position for Power Company but having been a law enforcement officer for many years, she was determined to work her way up into a field engineer position, which was held almost exclusively by men. She was awarded the position 2 years after she started. Unfortunately, her supervisor felt women did not belong on his field engineering team, treated her poorly, held her to different standards, and put roadblock after roadblock in her way to a second promotion. Yvonne spoke up at the two meetings about her supervisor’s discrimination against women, pointing out that when the supervisor was appointed, there were four women employed, and he got rid of three of them. He did not get rid of any men. Even men who were guilty of misconduct were not discharged. She also noted several direct acts of discrimination, but no one took any action to correct her supervisor’s behavior. He assigned her to handle a dispute with a contractor, expecting she would go to the jobsite alone, and knowing that the contractor had a bad temper and a history of confrontation with field staff. She took another employee with her. However, the contractor was ferocious in their interaction. Yvonne decided that her supervisor was so determined to get rid of her, he would even place her life in danger. She quit the next day. Yvonne had taken careful factual contemporaneous notes about all of her interactions with her supervisor and stored them at her home. Those notes would likely have been admissible if the case had gone to trial and would have been determinative that she was, in fact, the victim of sex discrimination. The case did not go to trial. It was settled for a confidential amount.
Henderson v. Company (2018)
Jessica Henderson was a master welder working in an all‑male factory-like environment. There was one restroom for all employees. She put up with the inappropriate magazines, but one day when she went to use the facilities, her supervisor was changing his shirt with the door open. He asked if he could finish changing his shirt, she agreed and he closed the door. When he came out, she entered, but quickly noticed a cellphone propped up and pointed in the direction of the toilet. She picked it up and also noticed it was recording and was able to identify the owner by the cover. She was furious and confused and demanded that the owner of the phone give her his password. He took the phone, deleted the recording of her using the restroom and said “problem solved.” She disagreed. She reported the conduct to the company’s owner who did not take action. She quit on the spot. She pursued criminal charges against her supervisor and he pled guilty. She then brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. The case was settled for a confidential amount.
Carman v. State of Iowa (2008)
Cecelia Carman started working at Glenwood Resource Center in November 2007 as a night shift treatment supervisor. On her first day, two of her coworkers tried to frighten her by describing how staff members had been killed or raped by clients when they worked the night shift. They talked about sex regularly and at least one displayed sexually explicit material on his computer. When she submitted a written complaint to her supervisor, the supervisor laughed and said “That’s just the way they are.” Cecelia continued to be sexually harassed every single day she worked and she continued to complain to her supervisor who ultimately threatened to demote her if she did not stop complaining. On January 18, 2008, Cecelia resigned. The case was settled with the State of Iowa for $100,000.00.
Mary Endreshak and Clarise Fenner v. Aspen Group Cemetery Association (2004)
The two women applied for open positions as lawn mowers at the cemetery. Both had extensive lawn care experience. When they met the owner, he laughed at them and said, “We don’t hire women to mow. You are wasting your breath.” He said he was required to hire two women and two women only and he already had two women working in the office. He was definitely not going to hire two more women to mow the cemetery. He refused to even accept their applications. The women returned a few days later, concealing a tape recorder, and asked again, and he repeated exactly what he had already told them, but this time on tape. Complaints were filed by both women in the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and were quickly resolved.