Second trial to begin in group of Iowa racial bias claims

DES MOINES – The state of Iowa will again defend itself in a trial that alleges a culture of discrimination and retaliation existed against black workers at Iowa Workforce Development.

The lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial Wednesday with jury selection, was filed on behalf of Tereasa Jefferson. It is the second case to stem from a class-action lawsuit that claimed up to 6,000 blacks were denied state jobs due to a pattern of discrimination in state government hiring practices. After a judge dismissed that case, four individual class members fired from their jobs at Iowa Workforce Development moved ahead with their claims.

In the first case, a jury last month awarded Dorothea Polk $130,000, finding that workforce development officials retaliated against her after she filed a discrimination complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The jury did not find race discrimination was proven, however.

In the latest case, Jefferson will allege the state discriminated against her.

Jefferson, 57, was hired by Iowa Workforce Development in November 1998 to train employees on computer software. She was fired in April 1999 by the agency’s human resources director at the time, Jackie Mallory, who cited poor performance as the reason.

Jefferson continued to apply for state jobs for five years but learned in 2005 Mallory had placed her on an exclusion list that prevented her from getting another state job. Employees dismissed for performance typically are not placed on the list.

Jefferson was eventually removed from the list, and she was rehired by IWD in October 2007. She still works there as a legal secretary.

Newkirk and attorneys for the state declined to comment on the case Tuesday.

Newkirk and attorney Leonard Bates argue that Mallory routinely manipulated the state’s merit system rules in ways that opened up jobs for whites, limited opportunities for blacks and punished those who filed complaints.

The state’s attorneys say race was never a factor in employment decisions, and Mallory has called the racism allegations against her “absolutely ridiculous.”