Iowa Shoots Foot in Discrimination Case

Liable for Retaliation, not Discrimination

Here’s every employer’s nightmare.

A jury in Iowa last week awarded a former state employee $130,000 in damages after finding she was fired from her state job as a mailroom clerk in retaliation for  filing a complaint about race discrimination.

The jury, however, said there was no evidence that Dorothea Polk, 53, who is black, was a victim of race discrimination.

This means that the damages are attributable to the inept handling of her race discrimination complaint by the state of Iowa.

Polk said she spoke with a human resources officer, Jackie Mallory after Polk was passed over for promotion to a clerk’s job in the office of  Iowa Workforce Development.  During the conversation, Polk said that Mallory told her “You people think you’re entitled to preferences.”

Polk filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging race discrimination in May 2006 and was fired two months later.   Polk’s  managers said she was ineffective at running the office’s mail room and “disrespectfully challenged authority.”

The jury verdict came after a two-week trial.

Another issue in Polk’s case involved an allegation by her attorneys that the state destroyed or lost a report commissioned by former Department of Administrative Services director Mollie Anderson that said racism played a part in some decisions made in the Iowa Workforce Development office. In a 2008 video deposition shown to jurors in the trial Anderson said she’d seen the report, Polk’s attorneys said.

No copy of the report, however, was produced by the state for trial.

In his closing arguments, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Smith disputed that a “secret report” ever existed, arguing that Anderson misspoke or was confused during a deposition in another case.

The lesson – an employer can be found liable for retaliation even if a jury finds there is no substance to the underlying complaint.

 

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