Selected Case Summaries – Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Bullying at School
Christopher Godfrey v. State of Iowa
IN THE IOWA DISTRICT COURT FOR POLK COUNTY
|CHRISTOPHER J. GODFREY,
STATE of IOWA; TERRY BRANSTAD, Governor of the State of Iowa, individually and in his official capacity; JEFFREY BOEYINK, Chief of Staff to the Governor of the State of Iowa, individually and in his official capacity; BRENNA FINDLEY, Legal Counsel to the Governor of the State of Iowa, individually and in her official capacity; TERESA WAHLERT, Director, Iowa Workforce Development, in her official capacity,
|CASE No. LACL124195
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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.
Fagen v. Grand View University and N.P.I Security (2016)
Cameron came from small town Iowa and lived in a dormitory with football and basketball players at Grand View University. He got along well but was somewhat isolated by his different interests. On April 12, 2012, a group of football and basketball players wrapped Cameron in a discarded piece of carpet, pinning his arms inside. His feet did not touch the floor. They stood him up in the corner of the common room. He was completely immobilized. They tied a rope around the carpet and punched him, kicked him and beat him with a broom handle. They pelted him with cereal and poured milk on his head. They then put him back on the floor and rolled him across the room to another corner. When they stood him back up, he fell forward on his chin, breaking his jaw in two places. He had to be cut out of the carpet roll. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, but when the gravity of his injuries was discovered, he was immediately transferred to the University of Iowa. Most of the students were disciplined and some were expelled. Remarkably, the whole ordeal was captured by security cameras. It lasted 39 minutes, but no one was monitoring the security cameras and no one came to his aid.
The Defendants wanted all of Cameron’s medical records whether or not they had anything to do with his injuries. We objected and appealed to the Supreme Court, which established limitations on what records could be demanded by Defendants in a personal injury case.
Fortunately, Cameron made a complete recovery, changed schools and graduated with a degree in business.
The case was resolved for $125,000.
Gannaway v. Grinnell – Newburg School District (2015)
8‑year‑old John Doe was in the third grade when he was required to change schools and became the target of bullying by another student. When he and his dad reported the incident to the school principal, the principal did not help them identify the bully. He, instead, became impatient about the father’s insistence that the bully be identified and talked to about his conduct. The dad took the complaint to the superintendent. When the principal learned that the father had taken his complaint to the superintendent, he took John Doe out of class, questioned him repeatedly about the incident, sat him in the corner and made him say over and over again “I will not lie”. The principal called the father and told him he had “broken down” the child’s story and “found some discrepancies in it.” The dad raced to the school to rescue his child who he heard crying and sobbing. John Doe had a pre‑existing condition that was severely exacerbated by the principal’s conduct. The child was unable to go back to school except for a day or two and he and his siblings transferred to a new school district. The whole family has since been involved in significant social activism against bullying. The case was settled at the beginning of the trial, when the parties could not seat a jury. Many panel members had experienced bullying or had children or grandchildren who had experienced bullying and did not think they could be fair. Several jury panel members talked about the significant harm that bullying causes. Some Jurors even cried about events that happened decades ago.
The Doe Family V. PCM Community School District and Jane Babcock (2014)
Mother Doe discovered her 12-year-old prepubescent son was being recruited for sexual conduct by an older boy who was twice his size and bullied him regularly on Facebook and by text messages, asking the son to show the boy his genitals during showers in the PCM locker room. The mother immediately complained to Ms. Babcock and others who told her the conduct was not actionable and she should destroy the Facebook messages. Instead, when her complaints did not even result in an investigation, she and her husband filed a lawsuit on behalf of their son. During discovery, defendants’ documents indicated that this boy had sexually harassed other students both before and after he harassed their 12-year-old son. The son was transferred to another school district and the case was settled for $100,000.00.
Child and Parent v. Worth County (2013)
On July 10, 2012 a 22 year old intern was taking seven children on a canoe outing in a county owned van. She failed to stop at a stop sign and the van was broadsided by a semi and split almost in half. Despite being seat-belted, the 11 year old child was ejected through the opening. The two children she was sitting next to were killed instantly. Her mother and brother were following the van at a distance and came upon the scene of horror. They both feared she was dead, but she was taken to a local hospital and then life-flighted to Mayo’s. She was listed in critical condition for many days. Her mom stayed by her side, spoke to her and held her hand. The entire community rallied around the family. Gradually, she began to wake up and regain most of her mobility. She spent 42 days at Mayo’s and many more weeks and months in rehab. She went back to school and for the first year she had a full time aide. She has cognitive issues, permanent foot drop and a significant change in personality. The case was settled without the filing of a lawsuit for 1.25 million dollars.
High School Athlete v. Clear Lake Community School District (2013)
The student was an outstanding athlete in several different sports. He was injured playing football in 2011. He worked with the assistant coach instead of practicing with the team while he was injured. As a result, longtime head football coach Fred Wieck harassed the student continuously calling him names such as “fag” and “pussy” and encouraging the rest of the team to join in. Wieck also forced the student to run wind sprints repeatedly in street clothes with his injured arm in a sling. Wieck was the student’s gym teacher and made many comments indicating the student was gay and gave him unwarranted low grades. Wieck accused the student of having sex with the basketball coach and suggested he should go to the prom with him. The rumors about the student’s sexual orientation were false. The student gave up football, but continued to play basketball. However the constant comments and suggestions by Wieck took their toll. He felt detached from school and the community, felt unwelcome and targeted at school and his grades began to suffer. His father filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on his behalf. The case was resolved in the Commission with a monetary amount and several policy changes by the Clear Lake School District designed to prevent the kind of abusive behavior in the future. Coach Wieck resigned from teaching after an arrest for public intoxication and resigned as the football coach in 2015.
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.
McElroy v. State of Iowa (2005)
Julie McElroy was a brilliant student working toward a PhD in education. Her goal was to become a university professor, teaching and writing about science education. She became a graduate assistant to Dr. Lynn Glass, one of the most powerful well-regarded professors in the education department. Glass brought millions of dollars in grants to the University and won dozens of prestigious awards. He also sexually harassed numerous female students over his 25 years at the University. Julie didn’t know this, but the University did.
Over the months, he mentored, guided and supported her. Though he said things that were inappropriate, she believed he was just socially awkward. Part of her job was to accompany him and 30 high school students on a month long exchange program with Russia in May of 1995. Once on the plane, he began to treat her like a lover rather than a colleague. When they arrived in Russia, he took her money and passport for “safe keeping.” At the hotel, Julie was stunned to learn he had arranged for a one bedroom suite. She demanded that one the beds be moved to the living area. He was enraged, but she insisted and he finally did so. He wanted to keep her door open, he came into her bedroom, he sat on her bed, he tried to kiss her and caress her, and she repeatedly and adamantly refused. His attempt to seduce her continued throughout the trip. He was also angry at her for refusing his advances and punished her by threatening to abandon her on the Russian subway. Julie stuck it out, knowing that the students needed her to stay and fearing that leaving him in Moscow would mean leaving the University and abandoning her career goals.
When she returned, she had lost 15 pounds and was depressed and anxious. She confided in her fiancé and with his support, she reported the conduct to University officials. An investigation was conduced by an independent investigator. The Dean of the College met with Dr. Glass, who admitted the conduct that Julie had described, but insisted it was all innocent. He was ordered not to contact witnesses and not to have contact with Julie while the investigation was going on. Instead, he contacted and tried to intimidate witnesses and stalked Julie through the building. The investigation found that Glass was in violation of University policy by sexually harassing Julie. The investigator recommended his suspension, which the Dean tried to do, but he appealed. The President and other officials circled the wagons and tried to protect the professor. Julie was left to fend for herself. She was retaliated against by other professors and administrators.
During the appeal process, Dr. Glass developed terminal cancer and the University dropped the charges. Julie expected he would be off campus after that, but instead, he continued stalking her until he finally left the University in March of 1997, nearly 2 years after the trip to Russia.
After he died, his friends and colleagues continued to make Julie’s life miserable. She finally gave up, left the University and never got her PhD. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The case was tried twice. In the first trial, the judge would not permit the jury to hear all the evidence. The jury found against Julie. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed, McElroy v. State, 637 N.W.2d 488 (Iowa 2001), and sent the case back for trial. The second trial, handled by Roxanne and Paige Fiedler, lasted 3 weeks. The jury heard from numerous women who had been sexually harassed by Glass, some of whom had reported his conduct to the University. The jury found in her favor, awarding her more than 3 million dollars in damages. The State appealed and again the Supreme Court reversed, holding that a technical rule had been violated at the very beginning of the administrative process. However, the Supreme Court also established a very important right. They held that a jury trial was available under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, McElroy v. State, 703 N.W.2d 385 (Iowa 2005). The case was settled thereafter.
Ward v. Hebel & Son Greenhouse, Inc., & Mike Hebel, Individually (2003)
Mike Hebel ran the family greenhouse. He installed a tiny camera in a unisex restroom where female employees also changed clothes. The camera was hooked to the TV/VCR in Hebel’s office and was discovered by a maintenance man. Tracy also discovered several pornographic web sites involving restroom activities on Hebel’s office computer. She filed suit and settled quickly for a confidential amount.
Tuel v. Schmidt Distributors d/b/a Shoppers Supply Co., Wayne Mason, and Schmidt Distributors, Inc. (2002)
Jodie started working at Shoppers Supply when she was just sixteen. Mason was thirty-nine, a former manager, and the married father of children Jodie was friends with. Mason became obsessed with Jodie, followed her throughout the store, gave her gifts, followed her by car, and made inappropriate sexual comments to her. She complained to her supervisors, who took no action, except for directing her to hide upstairs when Mason came in. She finally reported Mason to the police and filed a lawsuit for his harassment. These actions resulted in considerable controversy in the small city where these events occurred. Jodie suffered retaliation for trying to hold Mason and her employer accountable. Jodie settled the case for a confidential amount.
Flockhart v. Iowa Beef Processors (2000)
JoDee Flockhart started at the Waterloo IBP plant in September, 1988 as a security officer. JoDee advanced rapidly to the supply clerk position in July, 1990. A high-level supervisor reached his hand into her blouse, fondled her breasts and stuck his hand down her pants. JoDee reported him to her supervisor, who then reported the conduct to his supervisor. Though her report was written and an investigation was apparently conducted, IBP produced none of these records. No action was taken to protect her.
JoDee also reported a second incident and no action was taken, except that the groper was promoted. While IBP’s written policy required that all incidents of sexual harassment were to be investigated and the file was to be maintained, that policy was routinely violated. There is no dispute that the third incident of groping by this same supervisor was, in fact, reported by JoDee and investigated, but again, no records were produced. The perpetrator admitted the sexual assault, and still IBP did nothing except to direct him to stay away from JoDee.
JoDee was also subjected to daily sexual harassment by her co-workers, who called her “bitch,” “cunt,” “whore,” and “slut.” Comments were also made about her body. In addition, gender- based comments were a daily occurrence, such as JoDee should not be working, but should be home servicing her husband. Conduct such as cat calls, lip licking and crotch grabbing were frequent. Cartoons that were derogatory toward women and gays were passed around. JoDee’s supervisor saw and sometimes participated in the conduct, calling JoDee a “dumb bitch,” assigned her work that he considered “women’s work” and paid her less than the bottom amount in the range for her position. Men JoDee supervised were paid more than she was.
Over the course of the years, JoDee regularly and repeatedly complained about all of the sexual harassment. She became increasingly frustrated and emotionally distraught. She became depressed and angry, could not sleep, and cried all the time.
On May 10, 1996, JoDee was late to work because her power went out. Employees were not normally reprimanded unless they had 3 tardies. Nonetheless, her supervisor intended to write her up. She couldn’t stand any more harassment and discrimination, so she quit.
The case was tried before Federal Judge Michael Melloy without a jury. At the trial, male and female employees of IBP, past and present, corroborated virtually everything JoDee said. The supervisor who groped her admitted his conduct and under oath remembered he had assaulted her more times than she was able to remember. The judge awarded JoDee back pay, emotional distress and punitive damages of $537,851 plus prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees and costs of $353,332.00. 192 F. Supp. 946 (N.D. Iowa 2001).
Madison v. IBP, Inc. (2000)
This young meat packing worker was called sexual names and told by co-workers to “fuck off bitch” and to “suck my dick” on a daily basis. Her breasts and buttocks were groped. One of her co-workers bent her over a tub and pretended to rape her. Another picked her up and carried her around. Because she was married to an African American and had two mixed race children she was called a “nigger lover” and one co-worker, the brother of her supervisor, tormented her regularly by calling her children monkeys and zebras and saying “I don’t know why you aren’t embarrassed to go to the grocery store with those fucking nigger kids.” Supervisors saw much of this conduct and either laughed or ignored it. She complained to her supervisors, to the Human Resource manager and even to the plant manager. She was told that if she ever wanted to be promoted, she would need to learn to put up with this kind of conduct. She was an extremely competent worker and applied repeatedly for promotion. On at least 23 separate occasions, she was passed over for less qualified white men. Much of the discrimination and harassment occurred after she filed a formal complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case was tried to a jury in federal court for four weeks and resulted in a verdict of 2.4 million dollars, which was reduced by the cap on sex discrimination damages to approximately 1.7 million plus attorneys fees and costs. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually affirmed. 536 U.S. 919 (2002). We then settled for a confidential amount.
Ayers v. Food & Drink, Inc. and James P. Lynch, Jr. (1999)
Kelly Cunningham started as a waitress with a group of restaurants owned by James P. Lynch, notorious for heavy drinking and violent behavior. She, however, got along well with him, though he often spoke to her and touched her inappropriately. Like other women who worked for Lynch, she tried to ignore him. She was promoted to a management position. She then became pregnant with the child of the man she ultimately married. Lynch’s sexual behavior escalated including a drunken groping of her breasts in front of a restaurant full of people when she was seven months into her pregnancy. Because he was the owner, her efforts to keep him away from her failed and he stalked her throughout one of the restaurants a few nights later. She fled in terror. Case tried to a jury verdict of $355,000. Won on appeal. 2000 WL 1298731. Then settled.
Brown v. Pizza Hut, Stuart O’Hara and others (1999)
Jayme began working at a Pizza Hut Restaurant when she was just sixteen. O’Hara, the assistant manager, hired her. From her first day of employment, O’Hara followed her around the restaurant and cornered her. He touched her buttocks, pulled her shirt out of her pants and dropped ice down her blouse and tried to retrieve it. He followed her to the restroom and would use his key to walk in on her. She stopped using the restroom for her entire eight hour shift. He cornered her in the walk-in cooler and on one occasion, he handcuffed her to the metal shelves. He frequently told her he was determined “to have his way with her,” said “gimme a little kiss,” and threatened to get her away from others so no one could hear her scream. He also offered her drugs. His conduct culminated in an attempted rape and beating. Pizza Hut finally fired O’Hara after Jayme reported this incident to the police. Jayme was then retaliated against by her co-workers and eventually fired because she had “become a hassle.” Jayme filed a lawsuit that was settled for a confidential amount.
Dana Peterson v. City of Urbandale (1999)
For 17 years, Dana did her job as a police officer, ignored as much of the sex discrimination and harassment as she could, wrote complaints about the most egregious conduct and managed to be such an extraordinary law enforcement professional that she got promoted to sergeant, even though she was the one and only female on the force. She inspired another woman to apply and helped her get hired. Dana also became this woman’s supervisor. This second woman officer, Angela Robinson was the force’s only African American. The Chief treated Officer Robinson with disdain, but Dana was able to protect her for a time. The Chief finally ordered Sgt. Petersen to issue Officer Robinson a disciplinary action for violating the department’s dress code. Officer Robinson had not violated the dress code so Dana refused. She was instantly targeted, her shift was changed, she was removed from a prestigious assignment and charged with insubordination. Even after this swift retribution, she continued to refuse to carry out the Chief’s order which was based on race. The lawsuit was settled in formal mediation for $200,000, and Dana left the police force.
Linda Channon v. UPS (1999)
This high school graduate worked 23 years at UPS, starting as a part time loader and working her way up to Center Manager, earning nearly $100,000 per year in salary and benefits. Climbing that ladder required that she endure virtually every kind of sex discrimination and harassment. By sheer competence and because of the necessity of supporting her three children, she ignored some of the conduct, complained about the worst of it and overcame much prejudice by being the best at what she did. The beginning of the end came when a union steward got into a shouting match with one of the supervisors she managed. She was required to intervene and did so. The steward turned on her, forced her up against a dangerous piece of moving machinery, bumped his chest against hers and finally deliberately poked his finger into her breast. He was fired at Linda’s insistence, but permitted to return to work 6 weeks later and stalked and terrorized her in the workplace. She was also targeted for retaliation by her male managers who thought her reaction to this sexual battery showed “weakness”. She was transferred from one job to another, constructively demoted and finally put into a position for which she had neither the training nor the experience. Even here, she would have succeeded except for deliberate sabotage from above and below. Finally, 3 years after the initial assault, her doctor ordered her to leave, diagnosing her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and numerous physical symptoms related to her stress. After a 4 week jury trial in Des Moines, Iowa, she was awarded approximately $600,000 in back and front pay, and compensatory damages and $80,220,000 in punitive damages. The judge reduced the award because of the cap on damages for sex discrimination to $600,000 and Linda appealed. The verdict was affirmed on appeal. Linda completed a 4 year college degree in just one year and went on to graduate from law school. She practices in Des Moines.
Linda Monohon v. Sullivan Payne Corporation (1991)
A vice-president and treaty broker is paid half what identically situated male employees are paid. She takes a brief maternity leave and returns to find her responsibilities diminished and an obsessive former lover as her immediate supervisor. He delights in making her work life miserable. When all her attempts to resolve these problems fail, she proffers her resignation, which is accepted. Case tried to jury for verdict of $6.5 million. Settled for confidential amount on appeal.
Lynch v. City of Des Moines (1989)
A woman police officer faces outrageous comments about her body, her life and even her child. Case tried to a judge with a verdict returned in favor of Deborah. The case was appealed twice by the City and won by us both times. 454 N.W.2d 827 (Iowa 1990); 464 N.W.2d 236 (Iowa 1990).
Phylliss Henry v. City of Des Moines (1972)
Iowa’s first woman patrolman managed to overcome the multi-pronged, serious and continuing efforts to keep her off the force, despite the highest scores on civil service tests, a straight A college record in criminal justice and the height and weight necessary to meet the police department’s discriminatory requirements. When the city attorney required the Police Chief to hire her, she had to survive training in which her male colleagues choked her into unconsciousness. She also was required to wear male uniforms and get a man’s haircut. Everyday included the ever present sexual comments and innuendos. She prevailed, serving nine years as a street officer and becoming a Sergeant before resigning. No lawsuit was ever filed. All legal action was handled informally between the attorney for the city and the Den Lawyer.