The Iowa Supreme Court Holds Case Against Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds for Violation of Constitutional Rights Can Proceed

On June 30, 2017, in a 4-3 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that will help protect Iowan's Civil Rights for years to come. In the case of Godfrey v. Branstad et al, the Court held that Chris Godfrey, the former Iowa Worker's Compensation Commissioner, could continue to pursue claims against Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds and other officials from the Branstad Administration for violating his right to Due Process guaranteed under the Iowa Constitution. 

Godfrey's case arose out of Branstad's actions in 2010 when he demanded that Godfrey resign from his position and then substantially reduced Godfrey's salary after Godfrey refused. Godfrey claims that Branstad wanted to remove him from the position for partisan and discriminatory reasons, based on Godfrey's appointment by a Democratic Governor and his sexual orientation. The position of Worker's Compensation Commissioner has typically been insulated from partisan politics. 

The Court's decision will allow Iowa Citizens to bring lawsuits against state officials when those officials violate their constitutional rights, provided that there is not already a law in place allowing the claim. The decision will protect Iowan's from abuses of power for years to come. As the Court noted in its decision, Iowa has a long history of paving the way for progress by recognizing and protecting civil rights before the US Supreme Court has acted, noting our state motto "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintaining." The full decision of the Court can be read here. 

Chris Godfrey is represented by Roxanne Conlin, a Des Moines attorney. 

At Ann Brown Legal we are committed to helping people whose civil rights have been violated. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work: How our clients' fight to be paid what they were owed helped all women in the battle to close the gender pay gap

Cedar Rapids Employment Discrimination Attorney 

It was 2011 when I first met the three women who I would end up representing for nearly six years. These women came to me after they learned that they were being paid substantially less than the men who were performing the same job at a large furniture manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. All three women were managers working in a male dominated workplace. They were like a lot of women I know—smart, hard-working and dedicated employees. Still, they were being paid less than men for doing the same work. 

We brought claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. In 2015, before the trial, the case went to the Iowa Supreme Court to answer a certified question about the time period for recovering damages under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 

We held a jury trial in Davenport, Iowa, in the summer of 2015. The jury was made up of both men and women, and the jury found in favor of our clients for all of the equal pay claims. The jury also found that the employer's conduct was willful and awarded punitive damages. Throughout discovery in the case, we learned that all of the women managers at the manufacturing plant were being paid less than men performing the same work and we were able to present that evidence to the jury. 

The employer then appealed the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 3, 2017, the 8th Circuit ruled in favor of our clients. The ruling can be found here. The Court held that the employer had failed to show that economic conditions were the reason for the pay difference. The Court also held that evidence of the other women managers who were being paid less was admissible. As discussed by Bloomberg in an article discussing the ruling, the Court also held that Department of Labor audit results were not admissible. We believe these victories will help women employees in future cases to successfully prove their claims of wage discrimination.

Throughout the six years that we worked on this case, my clients stood strong in their belief that they and all women should be paid equally. They brought the same level of dedication to this case that had allowed them to advance to management in a male-dominated field. This case proves that we really can change the workplace for the better—one case at a time. 

Wrongful Death—Grieving a Loss that Never Should Have Been

Life is meant to be lived in the company of our families. The moments we spend with our parents, our children, our husbands or wives—those are the moments that make up a life well-lived. There is no greater heartbreak than the death of a loved one. It can be even harder when a death is unexpected and caused by carelessness. Words left unspoken. Plans broken. Dreams unrealized. 

During these tragic times, it seems unfair that there is often so much added responsibility to the families who have lost when grieving is already too much to bear.  We have been with families through these tough times and have found ourselves questioning how we could best help these families when at times it seems that any help we can give is not enough.   

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, who unexpectedly lost her husband, has recently written a much-needed book addressing many of the things that are left unsaid about tragedy and grieving. The book is called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sandberg not only gives advice for those who are grieving but for those who care about someone who is grieving. There are two pieces of advice that she gives that spoke to me: 1) don't ignore the tragedy because you don't know what to say; and 2) actually do something to help, no matter how small,  instead of simply offering to do anything.

One way that we strive to help our clients is through pursuing wrongful death claims, which can be complicated and overwhelming. We help our clients in a number of ways, including:

  1. Protecting them from unwanted communication from an insurance company;
  2. Helping them to determine potential claims and how to pursue them;
  3. Helping them to navigate opening an Estate; and 
  4. Finding available community resources. 

Our goal with every client dealing with an unexpected death is to provide them with reliable counsel and advocacy so that pursuing a wrongful death claim does not become overly burdensome in an already difficult time. 

Girls Who Read Become Women Who Lead

We are pretty excited here at Ann Brown Legal to be launching our annual charitable initiative we have decided to call Girls Who Read Become Women Lead. Every year we will donate a book that we believe has an empowering message for young girls to each of the elementary schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District to use in their library. This initiative is near and dear to the hearts of all of us at the firm because we are all avid readers. We are also committed to seeing the girls in our community reach their full potential and believe that providing access to books featuring strong female characters or strong messages for young girls is a step in the right direction.

A recent study conducted at Dartmouth College found that 57% of children's books published in the United States featured male lead characters and only 36.5% featured female lead characters. The researchers found that these disparities "contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls." But many authors and publishers are committed to changing this and Girls Who Read Become Women Who Lead is about making sure that girls in Cedar Rapids have access to these books.

Unfortunately, Cedar Rapids Public Schools are grossly underfunded, which results in limited resources available for expanding, or even maintaining, school libraries. We hope to help in some small way and potentially inspire others to do the same by donating books to school libraries in need.

This year the book we have chosen is Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves, by  Kate T. Parker. The book features amazing photographs of girls playing, fighting, living and loving along with powerful messages from each girl. One message from 12-year-old Kylie is: "Some girls never lose. They only learn and come back stronger." We were inspired by the book and reminded just to be ourselves, and we hope that the girls who get to read the book feel the same. 

 

Happy reading to our future leaders!

 

Bicycle Accidents—What Every Iowa Motorist Needs to Know

Iowa bicycle accident lawyer

When I was a child, my bicycle meant freedom to me. Before we had drivers' licenses, my friends and I would ride our bikes all through our neighborhood. Now my daughter and her friends ride off on their bikes almost every night when the weather is warm(ish). I still love riding my bike as an adult—it is a great way to get outside. 

With spring finally here, bicyclists of all ages are out on the streets, and it is important for motorists to keep an eye out. Bicycle accidents can have tragic consequences, and so it is important for motorists to obey all traffic laws relating to bicycles. Most of Iowa's laws concerning bicycle-motorist safety are found in Iowa Code Chapter 321. Here are a few provisions to keep in mind:

  • Drivers are prohibited from steering unreasonably close to bicyclists, including bicyclists that are on the roadway and on the shoulder;
  • The same rules for passing vehicles apply to passing bicycles—drivers should only pass bicyclists when it is safe to change lanes; and
  • Drivers should avoid following bicyclists too closely. 

For more safe driving tips designed to keep Iowa bicyclists safe click here. 

If your child needs a bike helmet, visit Safe Kids Linn County to find out how to get a free children's bicycle helmet. Also, Ann Brown Legal is a contributor to the Hiawatha Memorial Day Bike Rodeo where they give away bike helmets to the first 50 children. 

The Water Crisis in Flint and Why We Must do More to Protect Our Children from Lead Poisoning

While many Iowan's likely have followed the story of the lead-tainted water in Flint, most people probably think that lead poisoning is an isolated problem only impacting the children of Flint. The truth, however, is that Iowa's children are lead poisoned at a higher rate than the national average and the failures in Flint, highlight a widespread problem that many people know nothing about, but that is entirely preventable. 

Flint, Michigan is a city with a population under 100,000 where over 41% live below the poverty line.  In 2015, multiple studies found that Flint's water supply was contaminated with lead as a result of various cost-saving measures previously taken by the City and that incidents of lead poisoning in Flint had increased dramatically. The investigation into the contaminated water found negligence and even criminal conduct on behalf of a number of public employees and has resulted in numerous lawsuits and prosecutions. The disaster in Flint has called attention to a nationwide health crisis—childhood lead poisoning—that is often overlooked because most of the children impacted are poor.

Lead poisoning is particularly devastating because it causes permanent brain damage in young children. It is heartbreaking that a poisoning that a child suffers at the age of one or two can impact that child for the rest of their lives. I have represented children who suffered such severe brain damage that they will never be able to live independently. Particularly scary is that children often display no visible symptoms of lead poisoning.

Unlike Flint, most Iowa children who are poisoned are exposed to lead paint and not contaminated water.  Homes built before 1950 likely contain lead-based paint. While many impoverished children live in homes built before 1950, lead poisoning is not unavoidable—it is completely preventable. Lead paint that is kept in good condition is usually not a hazard to small children, who become poisoned through paint chips and paint dust. So, who is responsible and who is failing these children? In most cases, it is negligent landlords.

While many Iowa parents do not know about lead poisoning, most Iowa landlords do. Landlords are required to provide certain information to tenants regarding the risk of lead poisoning.  Most landlords know that chipping and peeling paint causes childhood lead poisoning. Additionally, the law requires that landlords keep their properties in a safe condition, including keeping their properties free from lead hazards. Some cities, like Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, even have specific provisions in the City Code that require landlords to keep their properties lead safe. 

So why are Iowa's children still becoming lead poisoned at such a high rate? One big reason is that landlords are not doing their jobs. This failure often goes undetected because many of the families and children impacted by lead poisoning are poor. But the injustice of robbing a child of his or her potential by simply failing to keep a property in good repair is no less great for poor children. If the water crisis in Flint has taught us anything, it is that every child deserves to grow up healthy and that the adults who fail those children should be held accountable.  

The biggest tragedy to me having supervised the treatment of over 25,000 lead poisoned children is the fact that the child’s life is gone. It is wrecked forever, as early as one or two years of age and there’s no recovery.
— Dr. John Rosen

If your child has been lead poisoned and you would like more information about holding your landlord accountable, call us at (319) 826-2250.  

Wrongful Death Cases: Why women's lives should be valued equally with men's

Iowa Wrongful Death Attorney

Throughout my career, I've represented families who have lost a loved one because of the negligence of another. Whether the result of a car accident, medical malpractice or even criminal conduct, wrongful death cases are important not just to the family involved, but also as a way to make the world safer and hopefully spare another family a similar tragedy.

I've helped families where the victim was male; I've helped families where the victim was female. One disturbing truth that I've discovered is that many insurance companies—even lawyers—will place a lower value on the life of a loved one if the person lost is a woman. 

Insurance companies and defense attorneys make arguments about women's earnings and their role supporting their families, but the truth is that this belief about women's lives is archaic, insulting and ridiculous. I have refused to ever accept this logic when representing families. Children who have lost their mother, husbands who have lost their wives, parents who have lost a daughter—their tragedy should never be devalued because of outdated and simple minded arguments. All lawyers representing families who have lost a female family member should advocate for that family as strenuously as any other family and recognize and honor their loss by rejecting all claims that women's lives are somehow worth less than men's lives. 

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
— Oscar Wilde

UBER Sexual Harassment Allegations are a Wake-Up Call for the Tech Industry

The assertion by a former Uber employee that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor and then ignored by the human resources department has brought much-needed attention to a continuing problem in the tech industry - sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.

sexual harassment attorney 

On February 19, Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber published a blog recounting her experience at Uber, including being sexually propositioned by her boss. While this is certainly a disturbing set  of facts, perhaps more troubling is Ms. Fowler's description of what happened when she took her complaint to the human resources department. Ms. Fowler was advised that, while she clearly had been the victim of sexual harassment, her boss would only be given a warning despite multiple complaints from different women, because he was "a high performer." She was also advised that she (and not the harasser) could change jobs or alternatively that she would need to learn to deal with the harassment and the likelihood that she would be retaliated against for complaining.  

Ms. Fowler's now widely read post has resulted in numerous women working in the tech community sharing their own similar experiences. The LA Times reported that a 2015 survey had found that 60% of women in the tech industry have experienced unwanted sexual advances from a colleague and that a 2008 study found that 50% of women working in the tech industry will leave an employer at some point in their career because of a hostile work environment. 

Many tech companies hold themselves out to be very employee focused and so it is particularly disappointing that sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are pervasive among tech-based employers. Equally as disappointing is the practice of human resources departments turning a blind eye to complaints about employees if they are high performing. 

Ms. Fowler's blog has raised awareness at Uber, including prompting an independent investigation that will be conducted by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. Ms. Fowler's story also highlights why so many victims of sexual harassment remain silent. While sexual harassment is clearly illegal, some HR departments punish the victim instead of the perpetrator.

It is important for women to know that Title VII and most state civil rights acts, including the Iowa Civil Rights Act, prohibit conduct like Uber's. Complaints of sexual harassment must be adequately investigated when reported and retaliation against an employee who makes a complaint is explicitly prohibited.  Women who are being sexually harassed or who have suffered retaliation as a result of making a complaint about sexual harassment and are concerned about making a complaint should contact an employment lawyer to discuss their options. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work - What Every Working Woman Needs to Know

Women employee's contribution to the workplace is "immeasurable" as Forbes recently reported. "Women learn to do more with less, they are resourceful, and develop a unique political awareness." Despite the significant value that women workers bring to the workforce, in 2015 the AAUW reported that women were still only making 80% of what their male co-workers were making for the same job! At the current rate of improvement, women are not expected to reach pay equity until 2059. My daughter will be nearing retirement age by then!  The gender pay gap raises great concern among working women, but there are a few key things that as an employment lawyer, I believe every working woman should know. 

  1. Equal pay for equal work is the law. The federal Equal Pay Act, Title VII and Iowa's Equal Pay Act require that employers pay men and women equally if they perform substantially similar work. The work does not have to be identical and it does not matter if the employees have different job titles as long as the work is substantially similar. 

  2. All claims for discriminatory pay have a time limit to file a claim. The Iowa Equal Pay Act and Title VII require employees to file a complaint with the EEOC or Iowa Civil Rights Commission within 300 days of receiving the last discriminatory paycheck. The Equal Pay Act has a 2 or 3 year statute of limitations and does not require a filing with the EEOC, but has limits on the amount of damages recoverable. If you think you may have a claim and are concerned about these time limits, you should speak with an employment lawyer. 

  3. It's against the law for your employer to fire you for making a claim of discriminatory pay. Title VII, The Iowa Civil Rights Act and the EPA all prohibit retaliation by an employer for making a complaint of discrimination. Retaliation includes not only firing but other actions by an employer that negatively impact your employment. 

  4. Executives and women in leadership roles are more likely to be paid less than men in the same roles. You may assume that because you have advanced to a leadership role in your organization that you are not being paid unfairly, but the opposite is true. The Harvard Business Review reported that the pay gap widens for executive women, women with children and women with advanced degrees. 

  5. You can help close the pay gap for yourself and others. I believe that the most effective way for women to address the gender pay gap is to do everything in their power to make sure they are being paid equally as their male co-workers. If you know that you are not being paid fairly or suspect that is true you should raise the issue with your employer. If you continue to be paid unfairly or have left an employer where you were paid unfairly, you should talk with a lawyer and consider bringing a claim against your employer. Equal pay claims have different legal standards from other types of discrimination that can make it easier to prove claims based on unequal pay. 

Women employees know they are just as valuable to their employers as their male co-workers. They deserve to be paid the same. It is not only what is fair, but it is the law. 

Imagine you’re a little girl. You’re growing up. You practice as hard as you can, with girls, with boys. You have a dream. You fight, you work, you sacrifice to get to this stage. You work as hard as anyone you know. And then you get to this stage, and you’re told you’re not the same as a boy. Almost as good, but not quite the same. Think how devastating and demoralizing that could be.
— Venus Williams

The information on this page is intended to be helpful but should not replace formal legal advice. If you would like to speak with an Iowa employment lawyer about a potential claim for discriminatory pay, please call us at (319) 826-2250. 

Small Enough to Care. Strong Enough to Help.

At Ann Brown Legal we not only stand up for our clients, we stand with them, every step of the way. I have been working as a Cedar Rapids personal injury lawyer for over 12 years and my focus is on helping my clients recover. John, featured in the video below, was in a very serious motorcycle crash. His kind words mean the world to me and I am so happy that I was able to help him. 

Our philosophy at Ann Brown Legal is to always stand by our clients. We treat every case as important and every client as a friend. We are humbled that our former clients recommend us to others who need our services.