review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Scott D.
former administrative law judge whose employment was covered
by a collective bargaining agreement challenges the dismissal
of her tort claim of wrongful discharge in violation of
public policy for failure to state a claim.
T. Graham and William W. Graham of Graham, Ervanian &
Cacciatore, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Solicitor
General, Jeffrey C. Peterzalek, Matthew T. Oetker, and Susan
J. Hemminger, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellees.
administrative law judge (ALJ) was terminated shortly after
giving unfavorable testimony about the director of her
division to the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee.
The ALJ, whose employment was covered by a collective
bargaining agreement (CBA), brought a lawsuit against the
State of Iowa, the division, and several named defendants,
alleging, among other claims, wrongful termination in
violation of public policy. The State moved to dismiss the
claim, arguing the common law claim of wrongful discharge is
reserved for at-will employees. The district court granted
the State's motion. The ALJ appealed, and we transferred
the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals
reversed, concluding contract employees may bring common law
wrongful-discharge claims. We granted the State's
application for further review. For the reasons set forth
below, we find that retaliatory discharge claims are not
categorically reserved for at-will employees.
Factual Background and Proceedings.
the procedural posture of this case, we accept the
well-pleaded facts as the factual background to examine the
legal issues presented on appeal. See Hedlund v.
State, 875 N.W.2d 720, 722 (Iowa 2016).
Ackerman served as an ALJ for the Iowa Workforce Development
(IWD). She worked in the unemployment insurance appeals
bureau. Ackerman began her service as an ALJ in 2000 and was
covered by a CBA between the State of Iowa and the American
Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The CBA
provided that employees may not be suspended, disciplined, or
discharged without proper cause. The contract also protected
employees from adverse employment actions taken in
retaliation for whistleblowing. The agreement further
provided for a grievance procedure.
2011, Teresa Wahlert was appointed as director of the IWD by
a newly elected governor of Iowa. She subsequently terminated
the bureau's chief ALJ and appointed Teresa Hillary and
Devon Lewis as the lead workers of the bureau. Over time,
Ackerman believed Wahlert, with the aid of Hillary and Lewis,
engaged in systematic efforts to pressure the ALJs in the
bureau and other employees to render decisions favorable to
employers. She also believed that judges who failed to render
decisions favorable to employers were subjected to
August 2014, Ackerman was subpoenaed to testify about her
beliefs and observations before the Iowa Senate Government
Oversight Committee. At the hearing, she testified about a
hostile work environment and the pressure she perceived by
Wahlert to issue decisions in favor of employers. She said
she felt powerless to stop Wahlert from improperly
influencing the decisions issued by the bureau.
December 2014, Wahlert suspended Ackerman, pending an
investigation into allegations of misconduct. Ackerman
believed that the allegations were baseless and that her
suspension was done in retaliation for providing truthful
testimony to the senate committee.
January 2015, Ackerman was terminated from her employment.
She subsequently filed a lawsuit against IWD, Wahlert,
Hillary, and Lewis. In her petition, she alleged the
defendants (1) retaliated against her for disclosing
information to public officials in violation of Iowa Code
section 70A.28 (2015); (2) defamed her; (3) intentionally
interfered with contractual relations; (4) breached the State
of Iowa's Manager and Supervisors Manual, of which she is
a third-party beneficiary; (5) disclosed confidential
personnel records in violation of Iowa Code section 22.7;
(6)violated her constitutional rights under the First
Amendment; (7)intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and
(8) wrongfully discharged her in violation of public policy.
defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the common law
retaliatory discharge claim in count VIII. The defendants
solely argued that the claim is reserved for at-will
employees, and because Ackerman's employment was covered
by a CBA, she could not bring the claim. The district court
agreed and dismissed the claim, concluding "[t]o the
extent that the agreement provides for a remedy relating to
wrongful discharge, Plaintiff is not allowed to apply the
narrow exception Iowa courts have reserved for at-will
employment to her current situation."
appealed and the court of appeals reversed. The court
explained that although the common law action of retaliatory
discharge is available to at-will employees and indeed has
been recognized as an exception to the at-will employment
doctrine, such availability does not categorically foreclose
recognizing the tort for contract employees. The court found
the tort was adopted to protect those with a compelling need
for protection from wrongful or retaliatory discharge, and
CBA-covered employees indeed require such protection.
Accordingly, the court concluded that Ackerman's status
as a CBA-covered employee did not preclude her
wrongful-discharge claim. We granted defendants'
application for further review.
Standard of Review.
review district court orders "granting a motion to
dismiss for correction of errors at law." Berry v.
Liberty Holdings, Inc., 803 N.W.2d 106, 108 (Iowa 2011).
In reviewing the order, "[w]e view the petition in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff, and will uphold
dismissal only if the plaintiff's claim could not be
sustained under any state of facts provable under the
petition." Id. (alteration in original)
(quoting Griffen v. State, 767 N.W.2d 633, 634 (Iowa
Development of Common Law.
resolution of this case ultimately rests upon "our duty
to develop and announce the common law" when resolving
disputes. Thompson v. Stearns Chem. Corp., 345
N.W.2d 131, 134 (Iowa 1984). This body of law is derived from
the principles, traditions, and practices developed by courts
through the process of justice and allows the civil law to
grow and change from one generation to the next in response
to changes observed in the needs and values of society. In
many ways, the process is part of the foundation of the work
of courts in our democratic society and one of the most
important components of the legal process itself.
Development of the Retaliatory Discharge Tort.
years ago, we utilized our authority to recognize the common
law tort of retaliatory discharge in violation of public
policy in Springer v. Weeks & Leo Co., 429
N.W.2d 558, 560-61 (Iowa 1988). In Springer, an
at-will employee was discharged from her employment for
pursuing a workers' compensation claim against her
employer. Id. at 559. While our laws at the time had
developed a remedy for tortious interference with a
contractual relationship, no remedy existed to protect
at-will employees, even from discharge based on reasons that
violated or frustrated a well-recognized and defined public
policy of our state. Id. at 561. In the absence of
such a remedy, we adopted a cause of action for tortious
termination in violation of public policy. Id.
Springer, we found that our state recognized a
public policy for workers to seek compensation for
work-related injuries. Id. at 560. This policy was
clearly expressed in the workers' compensation statute,
and the absence of a remedy for at-will employees for
discharge in retaliation for pursuing these rights would
frustrate and undermine this well-defined policy.
Id. at 560-61. We acknowledged that contract
employees ordinarily have adequate remedies, but did not
specifically restrict the new tort to noncontract employees.
Id. at 561 n.1.
heels of Springer, we were presented with the
question in Conaway v. Webster City Products Co.,
431 N.W.2d 795, 797 (Iowa 1988), whether a claim by a
CBA-covered employee for retaliatory discharge for filing a
workers' compensation claim was preempted by the Labor
Management Relations Act. The CBA at issue contained a
"grievance and arbitration procedure to settle disputes,
including those involving employees' discharges."
Id. at 796. We held the claims were not preempted by
the Act and that the plaintiffs did not need to exhaust the
procedures under the CBA before proceeding to state court on
its claims. Id. at 799-800. Without specifically
addressing whether the newly recognized tort of retaliatory
discharge was available to contract employees, we recognized
that the claim for retaliatory discharge brought by the
employees was independent of the CBA. Id. at 800. We
concluded that the claims were "recognizable state tort
claims." Id. Accordingly, while the plaintiffs
in the case were not at-will employees, we made no suggestion
that the new tort was not available to them.
Springer and Conaway, our cases that have
examined the retaliatory discharge tort have largely focused
on the search for a well-defined public policy to support the
application of the tort beyond the circumstances of
retaliation for filing for workers' compensation
benefits. Generally, these cases have expanded the tort into
four categories of protected activity. See Jasper v. H.
Nizam, Inc., 764 N.W.2d 751, 762 (Iowa 2009)
("[O]ur wrongful-discharge cases that have found a
violation of public policy can generally be aligned into four
categories of statutorily protected activities: (1)
exercising a statutory right or privilege; (2) refusing to
commit an unlawful act; (3) performing a statutory
obligation; and (4) reporting a statutory violation."
(Citations omitted.)). One general category includes
retaliatory discharge for performing a statutory obligation,
such as providing truthful testimony. Id. In
Fitzgerald v. Salsbury Chemical, Inc., 613 N.W.2d
275, 286 (Iowa 2000), we recognized a clear public policy in
Iowa to provide truthful testimony in legal proceedings. In
turn, we found the policy supported a tort claim based on
retaliation for intending to testify in a ...