116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARSHALLTOWN - Lawmakers and members of the oversight board for Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown are questioning why they are just now learning about an internal sexual harassment probe that included more than 100 interviews, 13 disciplinary actions and five discharges this summer.
The investigation comes after an October leadership change and allegations of not being transparent about bullying, sexual harassment and culture woes that have haunted the Veterans Home in recent years.
'It's always concerning if there is this large investigation and nobody knows about it,” said State Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, who represents Marshalltown residents. 'It's concerning.”
The home, which has about 600 residents, provides care and services for Iowa's veterans and their spouses. The publicly-funded home for veterans is the only one like it in Iowa.
Sodders, who said he'd heard sparse details from employees but never anything official, had more information than most. Most others had heard nothing.
'If it happened, we should have heard about it, but I haven't heard a word about it,” said Jon Wille, of Ankeny and 1st Vice Chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs which provides oversight of the Veterans Home along with the Iowa Legislature.
The Veterans Home and the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which oversaw the investigation, have yet to acknowledge or comment on the investigation or provide any documents. Messages left for Veterans Home Commandant Jodi Tymeson were not returned. Gov. Terry Branstad's spokesman said their office was told about it, but wouldn't say when they were told.
The matter came to light after at least three of those who were fired had hearings to collect unemployment insurance.
According to Administrative Law Judge Teresa K. Hillary's ruling, which was released on Oct. 2, the investigation into a complaint that a male worker was showing a female worker pornography despite requests to stop sparked an 'investigation, which ultimately resulted in over one hundred employees being interviewed and five employees being discharged and thirteen others being disciplined.”
A staff member complained to a supervisor on June 3, that on the previous day food service worker Dwayne M. Ferguson 'showed naked pictures of a pornography star” and 'adults engaged in sexual acts” and he continued despite stating 'she did not want to see any more pictures of naked men,” according to Hillary's ruling.
That single complaint sparked the expanded investigation and sanctions.
Ferguson, who admitted to also showing nude photos to two other women, was interviewed in the investigation on June 5 and discharged on July 15 for violating the home's sexual harassment policy, according to the ruling.
Hillary denied Ferguson benefits, but noted he was not obligated to repay $3,717 in overpaid benefits because the Veterans Home did not participate in the fact-finding interview and their account shall be charged.
As part of the investigation, Ferguson stated that he was also subject to harassment and those claims were investigated, according to Hillary's ruling.
In a separate case also heard by Hillary, Robert F. Henderson, a food service worker, was accused of 'mimicking a deaf, homosexual employee named Dewayne (sic)” and 'engaged in demeaning and offensive conduct toward one of his co-workers.
Henderson called it 'funning around” when interviewed on June 6, but he was discharged on July 13 and denied benefits, according to the ruling released on Sept. 10. Henderson had previously been disciplined.
In a third case, Donald R. Schmidt had an incident after the probe was underway, according to a ruling by Administrative Law Judge Lynette A.F. Donner. Schmidt had heard a fellow employee was calling him bipolar, and engaged in a shouting match in the break room on June 25.
Schmidt, who had been suspended from work in the past, was interviewed on June 27 and discharged on July 15. Schmidt was denied benefits at his hearing, which was released on Sept. 2.
It is unclear why or how the investigation grew so large, or why so many others were disciplined.
The investigation came after several years of scrutiny of the home.
Witnesses at an Iowa Senate hearing during the 2013 Legislative session painted a work environment of hostility, fear and low employee morale. Former Commandant David Worley resigned last October after critics questioned his management style in providing services for residents, even as Gov. Terry Branstad continued to defend Worley.
This past April, the Legislature's Government Oversight committee examined a whistle-blower complaint alleging harassment by Worley, with State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, saying it had been swept under the rug. A subcommittee approved recommendations last week to expand access to confidential investigative reports dealing with founded workplace violence.
The latest episode may signal problems still exist.
'I think things are a bit better now with Worley gone,” Sodders said. 'I think Jodi runs things differently, but are there still issues in the administration? Yes.”
State Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, had also not heard of the case. She said lawmakers should hear about investigations such as these so they can respond if there's a better way of doing things.
'I think the thing we have to worry about is making sure veterans are getting the care they deserve,” said Petersen, who served as chairwoman of the oversight committee. 'The last thing we want for them is to be in a toxic environment, and same for employees.”
However, she said, it appears the agency acted appropriately.
'From what I read, they had followed procedure, and the process seems to have worked,” she said.
Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said he couldn't comment on the investigation, citing 'personnel matters,” but he said Branstad has full confidence in Tymeson's leadership.
'From my standpoint, this was an investigation in the Iowa Veterans Home and they handled it through the appropriate course of action,” Centers said.
At least three members of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, including Jon Willie, said they had no knowledge of the investigation.
'I won't be happy if something like this is going on and I am not aware of it. We should be completely aware of it. I'll need to be talking to the commandant,” said Dan Gannon, a commissioner from Ankeny. 'If this is going on, they kept it very, very quiet.
Richard 'George” Goebel, Chair, from New Vienna, said he has not heard of the investigation but believes the agency is being well-run by Tymeson.
'I have been involved with the Iowa Veterans Home for 20 some years, and I have not heard of widespread cultural problems or tremendous problems,” Goebel said.
He added that problems with sexual harassment are not worse today than 30 years ago but they are now out in the light.
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