Capital Clicks

State keeps secret the details on abuse case

By: - May 9, 2023 1:48 pm

The state of Iowa is keeping confidential the identity of all the parties involved in an unemployment case involving dependent-adult abuse. (Photo illustration via Canva)

In an unusual move, the state of Iowa is keeping confidential the identity of all the parties involved in an unemployment case involving dependent-adult abuse.

Typically, the names of workers and employers who are involved in disputes over unemployment benefits are made public once the matter goes before an administrative law judge and there’s a formal hearing with sworn testimony.

The tapes of those hearings, as well as the exhibits in the cases and the judges’ written decisions, are typically treated as public record.

Over the years, hundreds of cases involving hospital workers, day care employees, home-health caregivers and nursing home workers accused of abuse have been treated as public information, with the names of both the employers and the accused workers disclosed in the judge’s decisions that are posted to Iowa Workforce Development’s website.

Recently, however, Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno heard a case involving a nursing assistant who was fired from some type of residential facility in Iowa after being accused of stealing the belongings of residents. The worker was initially awarded benefits, but Zeno overturned that decision and ruled the worker wasn’t eligible.

Zeno also issued a protective order in the case, sealing the tape of the hearing because the employer had introduced evidence considered confidential under Chapter 235B, which is the Iowa law that limits the public disclosure of information about dependent-adult abuse.

“There is no way to redact confidential information from the audio recording,” Zeno’s order states.

Separately, Zeno also eliminated from his decision any mention of the employer’s name, the fired worker’s name, and the name of a witnesses who testified.

Iowa’s dependent-adult abuse law authorizes the recipients of abuse information – including judges in unemployment cases — to redisseminate such information if it is “for official purposes in connection with their prescribed duties.”

As with police, prosecutors, state inspectors and criminal-court judges, all of whom make public some of the dependent-adult abuse information that comes their way, the administrative law judges dealing with unemployment claims have typically disclosed relevant dependent-adult abuse information that’s part of any case they’re hearing.

In January, Zeno published a decision that disclosed Allison Garrett had been fired from First Resources Inc. for the suspected verbal abuse of a resident. Other unemployment judges have recently disclosed the names of workers and employers in other cases involving verbal abuse, physical abuse and the financial exploitation of dependent adults.

A spokesman for Iowa Workforce Development referred questions about Zeno’s protective order to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, noting that the supervision of the administrative law judges was transferred last year from IWD to DIA.

DIA spokeswoman Stefanie Bond said, “Iowa Code Chapter 235B restricts the dissemination of dependent adult information,” but did not elaborate.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.