- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s executive branch no longer tells fired workers when they are added to the state’s “do-not-rehire list,” waiting instead to break the bad news if they ever apply for another state job, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The change came in response to two administrative law judges who ruled in 2009 that state officials do not have the legal authority to issue blanket employment bans against fired workers. Instead, those judges ruled that state officials can only disqualify job applicants on a case-by-case basis based on their previous firings. Several workers had successfully challenged their prospective lifetime bans through appeals.

But instead of stopping the practice in response to those rulings, the Department of Administrative Services decided to limit how it notifies affected workers, spokesman Caleb Hunter confirmed Wednesday.

State code says the DAS director must notify anyone who is disqualified or removed from eligible lists for job openings within five days. Those affected can challenge the decision by asking DAS to reconsider or filing a formal appeal to the Employment Appeal Board within 30 days.

The department had long notified fired employees added to “exclusion status” that they were barred from all future state employment and gave them the chance to appeal. But the practice changed in 2009 after the department lost the appeals, Hunter said. Now, some workers will never be informed of their status if they don’t apply again for a state job. Others might not learn that they’re barred until they reapply years later, which could put them in a more difficult position to challenge the decision given the passage of time.

The AP reported Monday that 1,471 workers are listed in a tightly-held state human resources database as barred from ever being considered again for state employment. The practice grew over two decades under three governors, two Democrats and one Republican, including 250 names added in the last three years under Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, despite questions about its legality. Several state employees said they never knew the practice existed, and one national American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union official said it was an “un-American” blacklist.

The lack of a policy guiding whether people are added or removed from the list leaves open the possibility of abuse, critics say.

State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he will ask DAS Director Mike Carroll and other officials about the practice when they testify before a legislative committee Thursday. McCoy described a culture of secrecy surrounding the issue, and said he wants to know how Branstad’s administration is applying the practice, and any notification procedures in place.

“Most employees that leave employment, they have the right to face their accusers and to rebut allegations,” he said. “But to just go on a list that blackballs them for life is hardly fair.”

Debra Tilton, of Cedar Rapids, said that she was fired in 2011 during a 90-day probationary period by the Department of Human Services after she made a “stupid joke” about shooting a gun that was taken out of context by coworkers. She was barred from consideration for a job as a clerk with the Department of Transportation last year due to her firing.

Administrative law judge Carol Greta upheld that decision in January, saying it didn’t matter whether Tilton’s comment was misconstrued since there were other complaints about Tilton’s work. She said it wasn’t an abuse of discretion for DAS to determine that “Ms. Tilton would not be ‘a good fit anywhere in state government and should be excluded’ for future vacancies.”

Tilton, 55, said that she remains unemployed and relies on the help of relatives to get by.

“I wanted to get my name off of that list, and I tried to appeal but it didn’t work,” she said.

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