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Lisa Klein v. Dubuque Human Rights Commission

February 13, 2013

LISA KLEIN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
DUBUQUE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE,
v.
GEORGIA-PACIFIC CORRUGATED, L.L.C., AND PATRICK NEECE, INTERVENORS.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Monica L. Ackley, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.

Lisa Klein appeals from the district court's judicial review ruling, affirming the Dubuque Human Rights Commission's determination of "no probable cause" on her sex discrimination, disability discrimination, and hostile work environment claims. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Danilson and Mullins, JJ.

Lisa Klein appeals from the district court's judicial review ruling, affirming the Dubuque Human Rights Commission (DHRC)'s determination of "no probable cause" on her sex discrimination, disability discrimination, and hostile work environment claims. Klein contends the agency's decision is in violation of Iowa Code section 17A.19(10)(d), (f), (j), and (n) (2011) because the DHRC failed to conduct an adequate investigation and its findings are not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings

In May 2007, Lisa Klein began working for Georgia-Pacific as a Flexo Assistant. On February 1, 2010, Klein injured her shoulder while cleaning out a pit under one of Georgia-Pacific's machines. Klein reported the injury to two supervisors, Patrick Neese and Peter Heimsness. Heimsness asked Klein to complete an employee incident form. Klein responded, "You can write me up, suspend me, send me home, I don't care. It's the end of my shift and I'm going home."

On February 2, 2010, Heimsness discovered Klein had not filled out the injury report per company policy. Neece contacted Klein and asked her to complete the paperwork. At that time, Klein reported she was injured while shoveling snow at home-not on the job. Georgia-Pacific conducted an investigation into Klein's injury. On February 10, 2010, Georgia-Pacific terminated Klein for refusing to cooperate with an investigation and lying about a work-related injury.

On or about April 23, 2010, Klein filed a civil rights complaint with the DHRC. Klein alleged she "was singled out and treated less favorably than her male co-workers, harassed about doctor appointments and made to take [Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)] while male employees were not, and [was] subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor [(Neese)] and other male co-workers."

The DHRC investigated Klein's complaints. As part of the investigation, the DHRC investigator interviewed Klein and one of her co-workers, Chris Frommelt, gathered documentary evidence, and reviewed an investigation of a complaint another employee had previously filed at the same workplace. The investigation revealed that Klein served a five-day suspension in 2008 for violating safety procedures. She later received an oral warning after she made an error that resulted in the production of 2,400 incorrect product pieces. The investigation also indicated that Klein received treatment for depression and an anxiety reactive disorder. In December 2009, she reported exacerbated depression symptoms. Her nurse practitioner signed FMLA forms to allow Klein to take several days off of work. In January 2010, Klein also used FMLA leave to receive dental treatment.

As a result of the investigation, the DHRC investigator recommended a no probable cause determination. The DHRC's administrative law judge (ALJ) independently reviewed the evidence and issued a no probable cause order.

Klein then sought judicial review with the district court. Klein contended the investigation was inadequate and there was insufficient support for the no probable cause determination. The DHRC filed an appearance and denied Klein's claims. Georgia-Pacific and Neese each filed motions to intervene, and denied Klein's claims respectively.

The district court affirmed the ALJ, and determined that "the finding of a lack of probable cause was supported by the record." The district court denied Klein's motion to reconsider. Klein now appeals the district court's decision affirming the agency's action.

II. Standard of Review

The Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Iowa Code chapter 17A, governs review of this agency decision. See Farmland Foods, Inv. v. Dubuque Human Rights Comm'n, 672 N.W.2d 733, 740 (Iowa 2003). A no probable cause order is not the result of a contested case proceeding but is "other agency action." Iowa Civil Rights Comm'n v. Deere & Co.,482 N.W.2d 386, 389 (Iowa 1992). We apply the standards of chapter 17A to the agency action, and review the district court's decision "to determine if our conclusions are the same reached by the district court." Locate.Plus.Com, Inc. v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 650 N.W.2d 609, 612 (Iowa 2002). We review final agency actions for correction of errors at law. Houck v. Iowa Bd. of Pharmacy Exam'rs, 752 N.W.2d 14, 16 (Iowa 2008). If substantial evidence supports the agency's findings, those findings are binding upon us. Hough v. Iowa Dep't of Pers., 666 N.W.2d 168, 170 (Iowa 2003). "Evidence is substantial if a reasonable person would find it adequate to reach the given conclusion, even if a reviewing court might draw a contrary inference." Mercy Health Ctr. v. State Health Facilities Council, 360 N.W.2d 808, 811--12 (Iowa 1985). A court may grant "relief from agency action . . . if it determines that substantial rights of the person seeking judicial relief have been prejudiced because the agency action . . . was taken without following the prescribed procedure or decision-making process." Iowa Code § 17A.19(10).

III. Analysis

A. Prescribed Procedure or ...


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