Iowa State Supreme Court Expands Common Law Retaliatory Discharge

June 21, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling on a former Iowa Workforce Development judge’s wrongful termination suit against the Department of Iowa Workforce Development and its former Director Theresa Walhert could have a broad impact on Iowa employers. The Ackerman v. Wahlert ruling, written by Chief Justice Cady, expands the common law (non-statutory) tort of retaliatory discharge, which was formerly limited to use by at-will employees who lacked other statutory protections, to also include contract employees. The case discusses state employees such as Ackerman, covered by collective bargaining agreements, but the ruling is broadly worded and appears to be designed to include all public and private contract employees. This creates, in essence, a third remedy at common law for these employees, in addition to contractual and other statutory remedies. The case can be found here.

The dissent, written by Justice Waterman and joined by Justice Mansfield, strongly disagreed with the ruling, saying the court missed the mark by expanding the tort in this case, and that the majority violates the separation of powers by creating a tort remedy contrary to an existing statute passed by the Legislature—going so far as to suggest the Legislature might overturn the decision.