State trooper, disabled by COVID-19, sues the state over unpaid wages

By: - April 26, 2022 3:34 pm

An Iowa state trooper is suing the state for allegedly refusing to pay him his salary while he’s incapacitated by COVID-19. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

An Iowa state trooper is suing the state’s Department of Public Safety for allegedly refusing to pay him his salary while he’s incapacitated by COVID-19.

Trooper Matthew T. Eimers of Hamilton County, who has been employed by the department for the past 21 years, is suing the agency in Polk County District Court.

He alleges the Iowa Department of Public Safety is obligated by law to pay him his full compensation and benefits from Jan. 4 of last year, when he first contracted COVID-19, into the future.

Eimers cites an Iowa law that states any peace officer who becomes incapacitated through “injury, disease, or exposure incurred or aggravated while in the actual performance of duty” is entitled to collect his or her pay, without using sick leave, until fully recovered or declared permanently disabled.

According to Eimers’ lawsuit, heart disease, lung disease and infectious disease are each presumed by Iowa law to be work-related conditions if they are contracted by a law enforcement officer.

Eimers alleges that in September 2004, his supervisor took him to a Des Moines hospital due to respiratory and heart problems and that he was diagnosed with arterial fibrillation, a heart disease. Seventeen years later, in January 2021, Eimers says, he became ill with COVID-19, which worsened his heart condition and led to a lung disease or impairment. Eimers alleges he has been unable to work since that time, and that his doctors have advised him he needs to retire.

The lawsuit states that while Eimers was initially given his regular pay after being off work due to COVID-19, the checks stopped coming after 60 days, meaning the state owes him a year’s worth of pay at present, plus additional pay extending into the future.

Eimers alleges that since last April, he has had to use his accumulated sick leave and other benefits to get by.

The department has yet to file a response to the lawsuit, but it did deny any wrongdoing in a recent, separate case based on the same allegations.

That case, filed by Eimers last December, sought a court order requiring the department to pay him his salary and requiring the state’s police retirement system to send his records to a medical review board for a determination as to whether he is disabled. The case was dismissed, with a judge finding that because Eimers had not exhausted all administrative remedies, the court had no jurisdiction in the matter.

Eimers has asked the court to reconsider that decision, arguing there are no administrative remedies he can pursue. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Friday.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.