- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A federal complaint alleging the former head of Iowa’s workforce agency unethically influenced administrative law judges has been resolved.

On Friday, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1Ikj9SP ) obtained a copy of a U.S. Department of Labor’s response to the current Iowa Workforce Development director’s plan to reorganize the agency. The May 20 letter signed by the Labor Department’s Unemployment Insurance Administrator Gay Gilbert indicates that the complaint is considered resolved.

In March, federal officials said in a letter that former Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert created “perceived pressure” to favor employers over workers in unemployment benefits decisions.

The department also said Wahlert, an appointee of Gov. Terry Branstad, gave some employees the impression that failure to comply might result in retaliation through poor performance evaluations or other “negative personnel actions.”

Wahlert, 66, has denied those allegations and has said she disagrees with the Labor Department’s findings. She resigned in January after Senate Democrats indicated she could not win Senate confirmation to serve another four-year term.

Several former Iowa Workforce Development employees have sued, accusing Wahlert or the Branstad administration of pressuring them to favor employers and retaliating against them if they refused.

The Labor Department’s March letter, signed by Gilbert, said that political influence over administrative law judges is prohibited and the appeals function must be fully independent.

The agency’s new director, Beth Townsend, announced a reorganization in April based on the Labor Department’s recommendation that will now classify the agency’s unemployment appeals management position as merit-based rather than an at-will position. The merit-based category offers far more job protections and protects those workers from being fired for political reasons.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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