- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Workforce Development administrative law judge filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state, former agency Director Teresa Wahlert and other administrators, alleging she was suspended in retaliation for criticizing management and defamed in a legislative hearing last summer.

In a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court, Susan Ackerman alleges violations of a state law prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers, defamation, disclosure of personal information and confidential personnel records and violation of free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Ackerman claims the appeals bureau at Workforce Development changed dramatically after Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Wahlert in 2011.

The lawsuit claims Wahlert “interfered with the bureau’s work, attempting to turn a fair and impartial administration of unemployment benefits into a process that is biased in favor of employers over employees.”

In addition to Wahlert, the state and the agency, the lawsuit also names Teresa Hillary and Devon Lewis, judges who Wahlert promoted to handle administrative duties.

Workforce Development spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said the department would not comment on the case, and the spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office, which receives lawsuits filed against the state, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.

Wahlert, who retired suddenly on Friday, did not immediately return a message.

When she announced her retirement, Branstad issued a statement of support for her work leading the agency.

Ackerman was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Government Oversight Committee in August and discussed the work environment. She claimed Wahlert pressured judges to decide in favor of employers.

Wahlert told the committee that Ackerman had “flunked” a Department of Labor review of one of her cases.

Ackerman’s lawsuit said Wahlert’s testimony was false and contained confidential personnel information she was prohibited from publicly disclosing.

Ackerman said Wahlert gave her an unfavorable annual job performance review in November, the first negative one in her career at the agency. Ackerman claims it was retaliation.

Ackerman was suspended on Dec. 11 pending the completion of an investigation into allegations of misconduct. The lawsuit said there are no grounds for the suspension and claims it’s also retaliation.

Ackerman seeks monetary damages from the state and individually from Wahlert and the others.

It is the third lawsuit from former IWD employees naming Wahlert.

Former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey and Godfrey’s deputy, Joe Walsh, also have sued.

Godfrey, who is gay, alleges that he was discriminated against based on his sexual orientation and defamed by statements made by Wahlert, Branstad and members of the governor’s staff.

Walsh alleges Wahlert wrongfully terminated him as the chief judge for unemployment insurance appeals.

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