from the Iowa District Court for Van Buren County, Mary Ann
former county employee appeals the grant of summary judgment
in her wrongful termination suit.
R. Dial of Law Office of Curtis Dial, Keokuk, for appellant.
Carlton G. Salmons of Macro & Kozlowski, L.L.P., West Des
Moines, for appellees.
by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
former employee of the Van Buren County Sheriff's
Department challenges the district court's grant of
summary judgment on her claim for wrongful discharge in
violation of public policy. The employee alleges the sheriff
provided pretextual reasons for firing her, and his actions
violated public policy. Pretext or not, we conclude the
employee's failure to show participation in a protected
activity is fatal to her claim of wrongful discharge, and the
district court was correct in granting the employer's
motion for summary judgment.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
Eden worked for Van Buren County from 1988 until she was
fired by Sheriff Dan Tedrow on July 30, 2015. In a letter
delivered to Eden that day, Tedrow identified three acts to
"justify the termination of [Eden's]
employment." He accused Eden of the following: (1)
establishing a private password on the Van Buren County
computer system; (2) intentionally keeping confidential
records at her home; and (3) intentionally deleting computer
files and an internet search history from a department
computer. Tedrow further alleged Eden's actions were
deceitful and intended to hide misconduct, which compromised
her ability to handle confidential matters.
sued the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department and Van
Buren County (collectively, the county) on September 14,
2015, alleging Tedrow falsified the evidence cited in the
July 30 letter to justify her wrongful termination. On
January 15, 2016, Eden filed an amended petition claiming
wrongful discharge from employment. The county moved for summary
judgment on the wrongful-discharge claim on May 11, stating
Eden was an at-will employee who could be terminated at any
time for any reason. The county argued the discharge of an
employee for specified reasons and not solely at the
employer's discretion is within the recognized scope of
the employment at-will rule.
response, Eden claimed her discharge was not appropriate
under the employment at-will rule because she had been
terminated for reasons violating Iowa public policy. Eden
asserted Sheriff Tedrow falsified evidence as justification
for firing her. This falsification, Eden argued, violated the
"communal conscience" and public policy of the
State of Iowa in "matters of public health, safety, and
hearing argument from the parties, the district court denied
the county's motion for summary judgment stating,
"If in fact a jury were to determine that documents were
falsified, this would be a clear violation of public
policy," and finding material facts in dispute barring
the case from being decided as a matter of law.
a jury trial began, the case was assigned to a different
judge who revisited the motion for summary judgment. The
district court determined for the lawsuit to continue,
"The employee must have engaged in activity compelling
the need for protection from wrongful discharge." Unable
to identify Eden's participation in any activity which
would warrant protection from termination, the court granted
the county's motion for summary judgment and dismissed
the wrongful discharge claim.
voluntarily dismissed the remaining defamation claim and
appealed the district court's summary judgment order. The