A dubious distinction for Teresa Wahlert

Even after retiring as Iowa Workforce Development director (effective this past Sunday), Teresa Wahlert continues to leave her mark on state government. Yesterday Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa, Wahlert, and two judges Wahlert promoted. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from David Pitt’s report for the Associated Press. Ackerman claims Wahlert “interfered with the bureau’s work, attempting to turn a fair and impartial administration of unemployment benefits into a process that is biased in favor of employers over employees.”

That makes not one, not two, but three pending lawsuits against the State of Iowa in which Wahlert is a central figure. Former Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey named Wahlert as a co-defendant in his 2012 lawsuit against the state, alleging (among other things) that she “ostracized” him after he resisted pressure to resign before the end of his fixed term. Last year Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development, sued the state and Wahlert, claiming that she had “interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers,” attempted “to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection,” and eventually retaliated by removing him in “a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff.”

In addition, Wahlert was on the wrong end of a November 2014 ruling by an arbitrator, who determined that the Iowa Workforce Development director had “overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment.”

Just last week, unemployment appeals Judge Marlon Mormann announced his early retirement, telling the Associated Press that he was “ready to be done with it” after his worst year in a 24-year career in state government. Judge Mormann and Judge Ackerman were both witnesses at Iowa Senate Oversight Committee hearings last August on Branstad administrative officials (led by Wahlert) “pressuring judges to rule against unemployed Iowans.”

Let’s not forget that Wahlert presided over the governor’s policy to close Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, which became an issue in a lawsuit that went all the way up to the Iowa Supreme Court.

I would guess that Wahlert’s tenure has set some kind of record for legal entanglements involving an agency director for the State of Iowa. Yet every step of the way, including the day his office announced Wahlert’s resignation, Branstad has heaped praise on her work. I’m convinced that the only reason she retired was everyone knew she’d never be confirmed to run Iowa Workforce Development again. Thank heaven for checks and balances.

From David Pitt’s report for the Associated Press, published in the Des Moines Register on January 14:

In a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court, Susan Ackerman alleges violations of a state law prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers, defamation, disclosure of personal information and confidential personnel records and violation of free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution. […]

The lawsuit claims that Wahlert “interfered with the bureau’s work, attempting to turn a fair and impartial administration of unemployment benefits into a process that is biased in favor of employers over employees.”

In addition to Wahlert, the state and the agency, the lawsuit also names Teresa Hillary and Devon Lewis, judges whom Wahlert promoted to handle administrative duties. […]

Ackerman was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Government Oversight Committee in August and discussed the work environment. She said Wahlert pressured judges to decide in favor of employers.

Wahlert told the committee that Ackerman had “flunked” a Department of Labor review of one of her cases.

Ackerman’s lawsuit said Wahlert’s testimony was false and contained confidential personnel information she was prohibited from publicly disclosing.

Ackerman said Wahlert gave her an unfavorable annual job performance review in November, the first negative one in her career at the agency. Ackerman says that it was retaliation.

Ackerman was suspended on Dec. 11 pending the completion of an investigation into allegations of misconduct. The lawsuit said there are no grounds for the suspension and claims that it’s also retaliation.

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