The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Iowa

April 28, 2014

Lawsuit challenges Iowa 'blacklist'

IOWA CITY — A proposed class-action lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of fired state workers contends Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's administration is illegally operating a blacklist that unfairly bars people from returning to state employment.

The lawsuit argues the Department of Administrative Services does not have the legal authority to maintain the list of 1,471 disqualified workers revealed by The Associated Press earlier this month. The state's practice of telling workers they are disqualified forever only if they reapply for state jobs is a violation of their due process rights under the Iowa Constitution, the suit contends.

"The purpose and effect of Defendants' illegal conduct has been to place individuals on blacklists without notice or explanation, without due process, without cause, and for all time," Des Moines attorneys Roxanne Conlin and Tom Duff wrote in the petition filed in Polk County District Court.

The attorneys represent three former employees who say they were placed on the list without their knowledge when they were fired for performance. They include a 24-year Department of Human Services employee who was fired last year after falling behind on his work following a death in the family, a 25-year Department of Natural Resources accountant who was fired for allegedly "making too many mistakes" and a treatment worker at the Iowa Veterans Home who was fired for missing an on-call shift.

The lawsuit seeks certification for a class that could include more than 1,000 workers. It would encompass those who weren't notified they were placed on the list and given a chance to challenge the decision; workers who were fired for illegal reasons such as discrimination and retaliation but placed on the list; current state workers who are erroneously on the list; and workers who resigned but were unfairly disqualified.

The lawsuit asks for an order to stop the state's current practice. Instead, the state should be required to develop procedures barring only those "who have been discharged for serious reasons which would prevent them from safely being re-employed." The lawsuit says the state should have to notify such employees of their ineligibility, the reason for it and their appeal rights. It seeks unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.

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