Judge blocks unemployment benefits for fired Iowa director
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge has cut off unemployment benefits for former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison, ruling he is disqualified because he was fired for credible allegations of sexual harassment.
Jamison’s alleged behavior violated the state’s sexual harassment policy and was “contrary to the best interests” of state government and the safety of its workers, Administrative Law Judge Nicole Merrill wrote in a 7-page opinion dated Friday.
While the state has refused to detail all the accusations, “even if we only consider one, such as speaking with his subordinates about his genitals, that behavior in and of itself would be sexual harassment and constitute disqualifying misconduct,” Merrill wrote.
Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired Jamison, one of her longtime political allies, in March after two of Jamison’s subordinates contacted her top aide to complain about his behavior. One of them sent a letter asking Reynolds for help, saying Jamison was constantly making crude sexual remarks about their bodies and his sexual history, and that women were not safe around him.
Merrill ruled that Jamison doesn’t have to repay $3,185 in benefits he collected from April 8 through June 2. She said he should not have been eligible for those benefits, but that the state didn’t challenge them in an April fact-finding interview. The state appealed, arguing Jamison should be disqualified because he committed job-related misconduct.
Jamison’s attorney Bruce Stoltze Jr. argued during a hearing last week that Jamison has been treated unfairly because he was never told the specific allegations or the identity of the two accusers, or given a chance to rebut their allegations. He argued that blocking unemployment benefits would be unfair because the state didn’t prove that misconduct occurred. Stoltze didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Merrill noted that Jamison declined to testify at the hearing and didn’t call any witnesses on his behalf. Meanwhile, she said the testimony by the governor’s chief of staff Jake Ketzner was credible.
Ketzner testified that he met with Jamison’s two accusers on March 23 and that they were emotional and shaking as they made detailed allegations of sexual harassment. Ketzner said he believed the women were telling the truth and no further investigation was necessary. Reynolds agreed with his recommendation to fire Jamison the next day.
Merrill said Jamison “may have hoped for a more extensive investigation or a chance to respond to the specific allegations,” but the state acted reasonably in determining that was unnecessary. She noted that maintaining the confidentiality of his accusers “is of paramount importance when dealing with allegations such as these.”
The firing, and Reynolds’ initial refusal to release the accuser’s letter, has thrown the Iowa Finance Authority into turmoil. The state has hired a prominent lawyer to conduct an independent investigation into Jamison’s behavior and what other officials in the agency and state knew about it. Other investigations are examining the agency’s spending and financial management during Jamison’s tenure.
Qualified recipients can receive unemployment benefits for 26 weeks in Iowa, and Jamison was receiving about $400 per week.