State settles Iowa State dispute over sex discrimination, harassment with former employee

(File photo) Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The state has agreed to pay $85,000 to settle a yearslong dispute with a former Iowa State University employee who accused the institution of, among other things, sex discrimination, harassment, retaliation and mismanagement.

James Coppoc — who was a senior lecturer in ISU’s American Indian Studies program, where his wife also was a lecturer — in 2015 filed a lawsuit against the university and program director asserting interference with their “intimate marital and sex lives.”

By settling with Coppoc — who has since left ISU with his wife, — the state did not admit wrongdoing, according to a Feb. 1 settlement from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office made public Monday.

As part of the deal, Coppoc agreed to drop multiple lawsuits and complaints against ISU and to not apply to the university again.

Many of Coppoc’s accusations involve administrators who have left their roles — including former ISU President Steven Leath, who last year became president of Auburn University, and Sidner Larson, who was director of the American Indian Studies program.

Larson agreed to resign in 2015 as part of an agreement stemming from the discriminatory conduct allegations against him. He, too, had filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to the alleged discrimination, but he dropped the complaint as part of the settlement.

Larson directly supervised Coppoc and his wife for years before the alleged incidents began in 2013, according to Coppoc’s lawsuit. Coppoc accused Larson of asking “probing questions” about his marriage and asserting his wife engaged in “online extramarital flirtation” that constituted an affair.

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Larson, according to the lawsuit, urged Coppoc to “get control” of his wife and then threatened her job. He was accused of sharing his concerns about the married couple with others at ISU and urging administrators to force them to undergo mediation as a couple.

The discussions devolved into “negative rumors” and produced “many false and prejudicial complaints,” according to the lawsuit.

Due to workplace stress, Coppoc said he took medical leave — during which ISU reduced his pay. In the suit, Coppoc also accused Larson of refusing to assign him to a “Native American Women’s Literature” course because he’s a male, instead assigning his wife.

When Coppoc complained to administrators, he was ignored, according to his suit.

Other recent settlements approved by the state include two medical-related cases out of the University of Iowa.

One, for a total $300,000, was with a patient who suffered an esophageal tear while being intubated during a cardiac catheterization procedure at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. The patient developed an infection and later died.

UI Physicians is paying $250,000 of the settlement, with the remaining $50,000 coming from the state’s general fund.

A second UI-related settlement totaling $150,000 is the result of a patient developing numbness of her tongue, painful sensations and loss of taste after the removal of a molar.

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