Education

Former University of Iowa police employees sue for discrimination

Lawsuit: Director 'treated younger, white male employees more favorably'

The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — Three former officers with the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety — including an associate director with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience — are suing the UI and several administrators for enabling “a culture of discrimination” within its law enforcement ranks.

The suits filed this month in Johnson County District Court by former Associate Director of Public Safety William Searls, 57, former Capt. Ian Scott, 54, and former Capt. Loren Noska, 51, accuse Public Safety Director Scott Beckner, Associate Director David Visin and Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz of discriminating against them for — among other things — their age.

“Beckner has treated younger, white male employees more favorably than employees protected by the Iowa Civil Rights Act, including special treatment in assignments, duties, promotions, and disciplinary action, such as refusing to order internal affairs investigations on younger, male employees who were reported to have violated department or university policies, as well as state law,” according to all three lawsuits.

“Beckner and Visin have spent many thousands of dollars on training for handpicked, younger employees … when Noska, Scott, and Searls already had the training, in addition to experience doing their jobs,” the suits assert.

Beckner in April 2017 told Searls, Scott and Noska their positions were being eliminated due to a reorganization. The university pointed to budget concerns — even while upping pay for younger employees, according to the lawsuits.

“Defendants discriminated against Searls under the guise of a ‘furlough’ plan that, in actuality, targeted older workers protected from such age-based job actions,” according to Searls’ lawsuit.

The three accused the university of replacing them with younger employees with less experience and education. And the eliminated officers said they weren’t allowed to apply for an unexpected opening after their termination.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

In a statement provided Wednesday to The Gazette, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said Beckner decided to reorganize the Public Safety Department “after careful review of the department’s governance structure, budget, and priorities moving forward.”

“The reorganization is a business decision that will allow UI DPS to better align with the safety needs of campus by investing in patrol officers that can move the department’s community policing initiatives forward as part of a larger effort to build positive relationships between students and campus police,” Beck said.

The lawsuits come in the same month a former director of the UI REACH program sued for gender, age and pay discrimination after she was fired in 2017 and replaced with a younger man who made more, according to the Dec. 14 petition.

Pam Ries, 63, led the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes program from 2013 to June 2017 when UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay gave her the option of retiring or being fired, according to the lawsuit.

Last year, the university initiated a review of its employment practices after former UI athletics employees Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum won $6.5 million from the UI in a gender discrimination settlement.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.