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Iowa Supreme Court to Decide Whether Internal Whistleblowers are Protected from Termination under Public-Policy Doctrine

by Ryan Koopmans and Ryan Leemkuil | January 3, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans and Ryan Leemkuil

If the Iowa legislature creates an express exception to the employment-at-will doctrine, may the courts  carve out an even greater exception under the public-policy doctrine?  Late last year, the Iowa Court of Appeals said yes in Dorshkind v. Oak Park Place of Dubuque II, L.L.C. Yesterday, the Iowa Supreme Court announced that it will review that decision.

While working for assisted-living facility Oak Park Place, Karen Dorshkind witnessed  two employees allegedly falsify state-mandated training documents.  Dorshkind reported the suspected wrongdoing to two coworkers and a former supervisor but didn’t take the matter any further.  After Oak Park Place’s investigation failed to substantiate the report, the company  terminated Dorshkind’s employment.

Dorshkin sued for wrongful termination, claiming that her firing violated public policy.  Under Iowa law, an assistant-living facility may not discriminate or retaliate against an employee who complains to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals about the facility’s operations.  Iowa Code §§ 231C.7, .13.  Although Dorshkin didn’t file a complaint with the state agency, she argued that the courts should use the judicially-created public-policy doctrine to expand the statute to cover internal complaints.   The district court and the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed.

The Iowa Supreme Court will likely hear oral argument before April.

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