3 ex-managers on U. Iowa police force claim pattern of bias
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Three former managers for the University of Iowa police force claim in lawsuits that their jobs were eliminated as part of a “culture of discrimination” against older workers and other protected employees.
Their lawsuits allege the university ignored complaints about discriminatory hiring and promotion practices under Department of Public Safety Director Scott Beckner, whose $200,000 salary makes him the highest-paid police official in the state.
“That department does what they want to,” a human resources representative wrote to a departing employee who complained about the unusual process used to promote an unqualified captain, according to the petitions filed this month in state court.
The lawsuits were filed by former associate director William Searls, 57, who helped assess campus threats and had many other duties; former Capt. Ian Scott, 54, who was the lead firearms instructor and training manager; and former Capt. Loren Noska, 52, who was in charge of security at Hawkeye football games and other special events. All are represented by the same lawyers.
Beckner notified them on April 20, 2017, that their jobs would be eliminated as part of an “organizational realignment.” The university said the cuts to management would help pay for hiring additional patrol officers and move the department toward a community policing model.
“Director Beckner decided to reorganize the UI Department of Public Safety after careful review of the department’s governance structure, budget, and priorities moving forward,” university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said Wednesday.
But the lawsuits allege Beckner singled them out because of their age. He allegedly stripped them of key duties in fall 2016 and started shunning them after asking Searls and Scott during lunch meetings whether they planned to retire any time soon.
After the jobs were eliminated, their duties were given to two employees who were ages 31 and 29, the lawsuits allege. The 29-year-old, Mark Bullock, had been promoted to captain before Beckner’s hiring in 2016 by Interim Director Dave Visin, even though he lacked a college degree and had only been with the department for one year, they allege.
Searls, Scott and Noska each applied for a lower-level sergeant position that came open in fall 2017 for which they met the qualifications. But after they turned in their applications, the lawsuits allege Beckner was angry and directed UI Police Chief Lucy Wiederholt to send letters informing them that the posting was erroneous and only internal candidates could apply. Wiederholt protested the decision but followed Beckner’s order.
By then, Beckner had already telegraphed that he preferred a 32-year-old officer for the position, and that man was eventually hired, the lawsuits claim.
Searls is seeking his reinstatement and the removal of Visin from his job as an associate director. It notes that Visin in 2015 interfered with an investigation into a hit-and-run drunken driving accident by his stepson after the two left an Iowa City bar, and accuses him of destroying unspecified public records related to the matter. Visin didn’t immediately return a phone message.
Scott’s lawsuit, meanwhile, seeks his reinstatement and the removal of Bullock as captain. Noska was rehired in August as an officer at a lower salary and reports to commanders whom he used to supervise.
All three are seeking damages for lost wages and emotional distress.
A fourth pending lawsuit alleges that Beckner improperly fired a veteran last spring, days before the man was to be deployed overseas with the Air National Guard.