Iowa expands its ‘do not rehire’ list
By RYAN J. FOLEY
the associated press | April 01,2014
ap file photo
In this 2012 photo, plaintiff’s attorney Thomas Newkirk speaks during a news conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa continues to maintain an internal “do not rehire” list of fired employees who are barred from returning to state employment, even though judges have raised questions about its legality, according to a review by The Associated Press.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa continues to maintain an internal “do not rehire” list of fired employees who are barred from returning to state employment, even though judges have raised questions about its legality, according to a review by The Associated Press.
Since 2009, judges have said three times that the Iowa Department of Administrative Services doesn’t have “the statutory or regulatory authority” to issue lifetime employment bans against fired workers, but the list has steadily grown, records show.
As of January, 1,471 people were barred from being reconsidered for executive branch employment, data show. That includes 250 added since Gov. Terry Branstad took office in 2011, more than twice as many as his predecessor’s first three years.
The growth of the two-decades-old “exclusion list” has occurred even though the state lacks policies for how workers’ names get added and removed. The practice is barely known outside of the human resources officials who manage the database, which they say helps identify bad workers and saves taxpayer money.
Critics say the list can be unfair, arguing that it’s unclear whether all fired workers are excluded regardless of specific conduct or performance problems.
“There’s a lot of room for inconsistencies, favoritism, petty retribution, discrimination,” said Des Moines civil rights attorney Tom Newkirk, who’s analyzed the list.
A civil lawsuit in December brought by a legal secretary who claimed she was unfairly on the list for years without her knowledge raised questions about the list’s management. The AP obtained data and records about the list through the public records law.
Some workers say they ended up on the list, which includes firings dating to 1993, without their knowledge. Others have complained they were added despite being assured by supervisors they could seek future state employment or remain on the list after a long-ago firing.
The list includes workers fired for cause, workers fired during probationary periods and some who resigned and agreed not to resume state employment.
Steven Kreisberg, collective bargaining director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Washington, D.C., said he hadn’t heard of a similar practice elsewhere. He said fired employees routinely agree not to again seek state employment, but Iowa’s practice goes beyond that.
“To be systematically blacklisted from employment, it’s really un-American,” he said, adding it was particularly problematic that Iowa’s list includes probationary workers who lacked job protections.
Department of Administrative Services spokesman Caleb Hunter insists the state informs people when they’re added and they can appeal administratively.
Spokesman Jimmy Centers said Branstad wants to change a law that keeps details of misconduct confidential so taxpayers can “understand why some former employees are on the exclusion list.”
Tereasa Jefferson, the legal secretary who is black, argued during the December trial that a white manager fired her during a probationary period in 1999, and had her added to the list. Jefferson said she unsuccessfully applied for positions repeatedly before learning in 2005 she was barred.
“I applied and I applied and I applied and I’m like, ‘What the heck is going on?”’ she said.
Jefferson successfully appealed to have her name removed, allowing her to return to state employment in 2007. Jurors rejected her discrimination claims. Jefferson’s attorney, Newkirk, said the case showed the list had been handled in a “slipshod manner at best.”
“There was nothing offered in writing at all, in the last 15 years, that suggested how the policy of the exclusion list has been applied,” he said.