Iowa official denies state senator’s allegations

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa official has written a letter denying a state senator’s allegations that she improperly pressured judges who hear unemployment cases to rule in favor of employers and against workers.

Teresa Wahlert, Iowa Workforce Development director, wrote a letter Thursday to the U.S. Department of Labor rebutting Sen. William Dotzler’s allegations that Wahlert has created a hostile work environment and is directly interfering with the independence of administrative law judges. Dotzler, D-Waterloo, earlier sent a letter asking the federal agency to investigate whether Wahlert is violating federal laws requiring fair and impartial administration of unemployment benefits.

Wahlert said in her letter that she believes that the agency “will easily determine” that Dotzler’s assertions are unfounded.

Wahlert wrote that there’s no evidence to support the allegation that she created a hostile work environment. She said there are specific guidelines for employees to file complaints on this matter, and she received none. During a news conference Wednesday, Dotzler said he has spoken with judges who hear unemployment cases and they have told him they fear for their jobs.

Dotzler further alleges that Wahlert, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, has called for tip sheets to help employers win cases and that she stepped in to supervise 14 unemployment case judges last year after firing the chief administrative law judge who oversaw them.

Wahlert rebuts those claims in her letter, saying Dotzler failed to acknowledge that there are tip sheets available online for both workers and employers. She also says the chief administrative law judge position was eliminated last summer because of budget cuts, and that she didn’t take advantage of the position’s absence to interfere in case judges’ rulings.

Democratic leaders expressed their support for Dotzler.

“I cannot condemn in more firm words the actions of the director to instruct administrative law judges to screw Iowans out of their benefits. Of course our caucus is behind this,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said at a press conference.

But Republican leaders said the situation is being mishandled. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Dotzler and other lawmakers neglected to discuss the allegations within the Legislature before making them public.

“As we rolled into session, there was a lot of talk how we’re not Washington, D.C.,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said. “What I’m seeing right now out of the Senate Democrats is a lot of Washington, D.C.”

Dotzler insists his allegations are true.

“These are some serious allegations, but as I said, facts are stubborn things,” Dotzler said on the Senate floor Thursday. “I know when the Department of Labor comes to Iowa, they’re going to find out that things are not right in Iowa Workforce Development.”

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Associated Press reporter David Pitt also contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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