from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Scott D.
former administrative law judge challenges the dismissal of
her tort claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public
William W. Graham and Wesley T. Graham of Graham, Ervanian
& Cacciatore, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jeffrey C. Peterzalek,
Matthew T. Oetker, and Susan J. Hemminger, Assistant
Attorneys General, for appellees.
by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
being suspended from her position as an administrative law
judge (ALJ), Susan Ackerman sued her employer, the State of
Iowa and Iowa Workforce Development, as well as three
individuals. Ackerman's pleadings eventually
included the tort of wrongful discharge in violation of
public policy, among other claims. The State moved to dismiss
the wrongful-discharge tort, contending it was reserved for
at-will employees and therefore not available to Ackerman
whose employment was subject to a collective bargaining
agreement (CBA). The district court granted the State's
motion, and Ackerman successfully sought an interlocutory
divides her appellate argument into two parts, contending:
(1) the district court should not have considered the
CBA's terms in granting the State's motion to dismiss
and (2) the district court incorrectly decided she was
prohibited from suing in tort for wrongful discharge because
she was covered by the CBA rather than being an at-will
employee. We need not tackle Ackerman's first contention
because the district court's ruling rests on her status
as a contract employee and not on the CBA's terms. But
because her status as a contract employee does not prevent
her from pleading the claim of wrongful discharge, we reverse
the dismissal order and remand for further proceedings.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
worked as an ALJ with Iowa Workforce Development in its
unemployment insurance appeals bureau from 2000 until she was
fired for alleged misconduct in January 2015. During a
suspension of several weeks before the termination of her
employment, Ackerman filed suit against the State, alleging,
among other things, that her employer retaliated against her
after she testified at a hearing before the Iowa Senate
Government Oversight Committee about "pressures put on
the ALJs . . . to render decisions in favor of
employers." See Iowa Code § 70A.28(2)
(2015) (prohibiting an employer from retaliating against a
state employee for disclosing information to a member or
employee of the general assembly "if the employee
reasonably believes the information evidences a violation of
law or rule, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds, [or] an
abuse of authority").
November 18, 2015, Ackerman filed her third amended petition,
which contained eight counts, including a claim for wrongful
discharge in violation of public policy. The State filed a
motion to dismiss the wrongful-discharge count on November
30, arguing that because Ackerman was covered by a CBA, she
could not bring a wrongful-discharge claim. In its motion,
the State provided a hyperlink to the Iowa Department of
Administrative Services website, which published the most
up-to-date CBA between the State of Iowa and the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME),
asserted the district court could take judicial notice of the
document. The State also attached a copy of an AFSCME
grievance form Ackerman had filed.
response, Ackerman acknowledged being "subject to a CBA
that allows for certain limited employee protections and
remedies, " but she argued that status did not prohibit
her from bringing a tort claim and that her claim survived a
motion to dismiss because any analysis of whether she had an
adequate remedy under the CBA could not be determined
"at this early stage in the litigation."
hearing argument from the parties, the district court granted
the motion to dismiss. The court concluded: "To the
extent that the [CBA] provides for a remedy relating to
wrongful discharge, [Ackerman] is not allowed to apply the
narrow exception Iowa courts have reserved for at-will
employment to her current situation." Ackerman sought
interlocutory review, which the supreme court granted. The
supreme court then transferred the case to us.
Scope and ...