Writing for a unanimous three-member panel, Chief Judge Larry Eisenhauer said Smith’s report was protected under Iowa’s whistleblower law, which says state employees cannot face adverse actions for telling a public official about legal or policy violations or mismanagement. However, he said Smith failed to prove that the retaliation and harassment he endured was “a reprisal for” his disclosure, noting that his mistreatment had already started by then.
Eisenhauer said there was “a continuous pattern of wrongful conduct” against Smith by Reinig; Eric Dieterle, a co-worker who became Smith’s boss after Reinig’s resignation; and then-Engineering Dean Mark Kushner.
Reinig called campus police nine times to claim that Smith was violent and a threat to others, saying he was capable of a Virginia Tech-style massacre. Dieterle also reported concerns about Smith, comparing him to an Omaha mall shooter. Kushner reported employees’ safety concerns about Smith to police. The reports resulted in a threat assessment on Smith.
The court noted that Reinig falsified Smith’s performance reviews, made false statements about Smith’s marriage and plotted with others about how to oust him. Kushner ignored an assistant dean’s suggestion to help Smith and instead backed Reinig, helping her try to get rid of him, Eisenhauer wrote. Kushner promoted Dieterle after Reinig’s resignation, and Dieterle damaged Smith’s reputation with clients and took duties away from him, he wrote.
Dieterle eventually eliminated Smith’s position in a reorganization, rewriting the job description with desired qualifications designed to exclude Smith, Eisenhauer wrote. He said “substantial evidence” supported the conclusion that ISU’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, the legal threshold to recover damages.
Jurors also did not err in determining that Smith suffered emotional distress, noting that he lost weight, began abusing alcohol, suffered insomnia and even considered harming himself, Eisenhauer wrote.