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Whitman v. Casey's General Stores, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 25, 2019

TODD WHITMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CASEY'S GENERAL STORES, INC. and CASEY'S MARKETING COMPANY, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K. Vaudt, Judge.

         Plaintiff appeals the district court's denial of his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial following the jury verdict for defendants on his claims of improper drug testing. AFFIRMED.

          Matthew M. Sahag of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, PLC, Des Moines, and Michael J. Carroll of Coppola, McConville, Coppola, Carroll, Hockenberg & Scalise, West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Andrew Tice and Lindsay Vaught of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., Greer, J., and Scott, S.J. [*]

          SCOTT, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Todd Whitman appeals the district court's denial of his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial following the jury verdict for Casey's General Stores, Inc. and Casey's Marketing Company (Casey's). We find (1) the district court did not err in denying Whitman's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on his claim Casey's improperly required him to take a drug test; (2) Whitman was not entitled to a new trial based on inconsistent verdicts; (3) Whitman is not entitled to a new trial based on improper jury instructions; and (4) the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees. We affirm the decision of the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         From the evidence presenting during the trial, the jury could find the following facts. In 2006, Whitman applied for a job at the Casey's warehouse in Ankeny. On the application question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than a routine traffic violation, " Whitman wrote down he had a 1998 conviction for conspiracy. He signed the application, which stated, "Any material misrepresentation or deliberate omission on my application may subject me to immediate dismissal." After an interview with the warehouse manager, William Brauer, Whitman was hired as a heavy-duty warehouse employee. Casey's felt it was essential to maintain safety in the warehouse due to the busy work environment and the use of heavy machinery, such as forklifts.

         On November 5, 2014, Whitman used methamphetamine in his off-duty hours, then reported to work on November 6. He again used methamphetamine after work on November 6, then worked on November 7. In the evening on Friday, November 7, Whitman was arrested for possession of illegal drugs. He was impaired at the time of his arrest. Over the weekend, Whitman smoked marijuana. He worked his next regular shift at Casey's on Tuesday, November 11. By the end of the day, Brauer and Marcella Burkheimer, the director of human resources, learned of Whitman's arrest on November 7.

         On the morning of November 12, Whitman was asked to meet with Brauer and Rick Buckroyd, a shift supervisor. Whitman admitted to his recent arrest and stated he had smoked marijuana over the weekend. Brauer stated Whitman "got very loud, and he just started talking erratically, and it was just kind of a chaotic situation." He told Whitman he needed to take a drug test. Whitman asked to go to treatment and mentioned he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Buckroyd drove Whitman to the drug test. He noticed Whitman drank a large quantity of water before taking the test. Whitman was suspended from work but was paid for November 12 to 15.

         On November 14, the human resources department received the results of the drug test, which were negative. Brauer stated he was not yet aware of the results of the drug test when he decided to terminate Whitman. Burkheimer looked at Whitman's criminal history and found he had many more convictions than he put on his application. Brauer and Burkheimer determined Whitman should be discharged because of his admitted drug use and his failure to fully disclose his criminal convictions on his application. On November 19, Brauer called Whitman, who was then in a substance-abuse treatment facility, to tell him he was terminated from employment at Casey's.

         On November 4, 2016, Whitman filed an action alleging Casey's had engaged in disability discrimination, improperly required him to take a drug test based on the provisions in Iowa Code section 730.5 (2016), and violated chapter 91A by failing to pay him all of his wages. The jury found Whitman was "currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs at the time of his termination"; he did not prove his disability discrimination claim based on PTSD; Casey's complied with section 730.5, and even if there had been a violation of section 730.5, Whitman would have been terminated anyway; and Whitman was entitled to $336 in back pay.

         Whitman filed a combined motion for new trial and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The district court found the jury did not give inconsistent answers on Whitman's wage claim, as the award of back pay was "ostensibly for shifts available to [Whitman] between November 16-19, 2014, " and was not inconsistent with a finding there was no violation of section 730.5. The court also determined there was substantial evidence in the record to support the jury's verdict Casey's terminated Whitman's employment for "valid reasons independent and separate from the drug test results." The court denied Whitman's complaints about certain jury instructions. The court also found the jury's verdict was not contrary to the weight of the evidence. The court awarded Whitman attorney fees of $3360 based on his successful wage claim for $336. Whitman now appeals.

         II. Section 730.5

         Whitman claims the district court should have granted his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because Casey's did not follow the provisions in section 730.5 when it required him to take a drug test. He states Casey's failed to (1) adequately train supervisory personnel, (2) have reasonable suspicion to test him, (3) reinstate ...


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