Iowa: Employee Justifiably Fired for Misconduct

By Diane Cadrain Dec 16, 2014

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of Iowa Workforce Development finding that an employee in an assisted-living home for disabled clients was justifiably fired for misconduct.

Stacy Jordan began working as a residential instructor for Tenco Industries, a provider of assisted-living housing, in 1998. In March, 2012, Tenco gave Jordan a “counseling statement”—the equivalent of a verbal warning—describing numerous instances of unacceptable behavior, and changes that Jordan was to make. Tenco transferred her to another residential house, in the hope that her performance would improve, but two weeks later, she received another warning, stating that she had failed to write up incident reports and promptly to clean up a client who had soiled himself. Two weeks later, it was reported that she had left a nonverbal client in soiled undergarments "for over an hour" and, that, when she was asked about changing him, she stated, “I will just wait for his shower because I don't want to clean him up twice.” The statements in her final warning came from the worker training with Jordan that night. After that incident, Jordan lost her job on April 6, 2012.

When she filed for unemployment benefits, Iowa Workforce Development decided that she was eligible to receive benefits. Tenco appealed, arguing that she was ineligible because she had been terminated for misconduct. An administrative law judge (ALJ) heard that appeal and essentially found that Tenco's witnesses were more credible than Jordan. The ALJ reversed, ruling for Tenco. Jordan appealed unsuccessfully to the Employment Appeals Board, and subsequently asked for judicial review.

When the case made its way to the Iowa Court of Appeals, Jordan made two claims: one, that the ALJ had been required to make very specific findings on witness credibility but did not make them; and two, that the statements against her were hearsay, and not trustworthy, because they were made by a third party but read to the ALJ by a different witness.

On her first argument, that the administrative law judge had failed to make the necessary, specific findings about witness credibility, the court responded that under Iowa law, ALJs, as fact-finders, are not required to discuss each and every fact in the record and explain why or why not they have rejected it. The ALJ’s decision need only be sufficiently detailed to show the path they have taken through conflicting evidence. Here, the court said, two different stories were presented at the hearing, and the ALJ was required to determine which story it found most credible. The court ruled that the lack of a specific statement concerning the ALJ’s credibility determination was not a fatal flaw in the determination that sufficient evidence supported the decision.

Jordan’s second argument was that the testimony presented at the ALJ hearing was not presented by the person whose statements they were. On this point, the court stated that the ALJ found Jordan had done what Tenco's employees said she had done, and that her actions violated Tenco's policies. There had been substantial evidence in the record to show that Jordan mistreated a nonverbal client of her employer, and therefore the finding that Jordan had engaged in disqualifying misconduct was reasonable. The court affirmed the agency's decision.

Jordan v. Employment Appeals Board, Iowa Ct. App., No. 13-1380 (Oct. 29, 2014).

Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.

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