State’s oldest workplace misconduct cases have been pending 1,200 days

By: - May 24, 2022 5:38 pm

The state of Iowa has at least three workplace misconduct complaints that have been pending for more than three years. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The state of Iowa has at least three workplace misconduct complaints that have been pending for more than three years, the director of the Department of Administrative Services told members of the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.

State Sen. Janet Petersen had asked the department about a month ago how many cases it had pending involving allegations of sexual harassment or a hostile work department. She also asked how many days the three longest cases had been pending. The answer, which came Tuesday in a memo from DAS Director Adam Steen: 1,200 days.

Petersen, D-Des Moines, said in an interview she was shocked by the answer and that it raised more questions: “What would hold up a case for 1,200 days?”

She said she plans to ask more questions.

“I think this definitely means we’ve got some followup,” she said, including why cases have been pending for so long. She also wondered whether the employees involved were on administrative leave and whether they were being paid. She also wants to know how many other cases have been pending for a lengthy period of time.

Petersen added: “And, you know, it also makes me wonder, where do state employees turn?”

Petersen had raised multiple questions a month ago after learning the department had 199 open complaints about sexual harassment or other workplace misconduct as of April 20. The memo sent Tuesday addresses some of the questions Petersen asked before Steen was confirmed as director of the department on April 25.

After initially receiving no response from the department, Petersen raised the questions again last week during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting that included consideration of the Department of Administrative Services’ budget. After the meeting, Republican Sen. Dennis Guth of Klemme also requested answers to the questions.

The DAS memo said the state had 53 open sexual harassment complaints as of May 19. As of the same date, there were 83 open complaints alleging a possible violation of the state’s “violence-free workplace policy” for executive branch employees, according to the memo.

Steen’s memo says of 130 complaints closed between July 1, 2021, and May 19, 2022, and have been nine founded violations of the sexual harassment policy and nine founded violations of the violence free workplace policy.

“Note that many complaints contain multiple allegations. Of the 18 founded violations identified here, it is typical that multiple violations arose from a single complaint,” Steen wrote. “In other words, a single complaint could result in multiple founded violations of the Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment and/or the Violence-Free Workplace Policy.”

State employees who complain about sexual harassment or a hostile workplace environment are notified when an investigation is concluded but not whether their report was considered founded or unfounded, the DAS memo stated.

The department notifies the governor’s office of the results of any complaints involving agency heads of governor’s appointees, the memo said. The person who filed the complaint is not notified, however.

“DAS investigations are confidential personnel matters and, in accordance with DAS rules and Iowa Code, are not subject to disclosure to any other party except as directed by a court of competent jurisdiction or as part of proceedings before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission,” the memo states.

The state has paid $28.6 million between the 2012 fiscal year and the end of April 2022 to settle cases related to sexual harassment, hostile work environment, age discrimination, disability discrimination, civil rights violations, free speech violations and retaliation, according to the State Appeals Board. Nearly $5.4 million of those settlements was approved this year.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.