After speaking with at least half of the administrative law judges who rule cases for unemployment disputes, State Senator Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) says he’s gathered evidence that the head of Iowa Workforce Development has pressured judges to rule against employees hoping to receive unemployment insurance benefits.
Dotzler, who co-chairs the Joint Economic Development Subcommittee, says IWD Director Teresa Wahlert pressured judges to rule in favor of employers by asking them to create ‘tip sheets’ to help employers win cases. Dotzler alleges Wahlert asked a former chief judge to keep tallies on how each judge ruled cases, and took over the duties of their former supervisor.
According to Dotzler, Wahlert asked Joseph L. Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge, to keep track of how each judge ruled in unemployment claims cases. Soon after he refused, his position was eliminated—a position Dotzler says was a buffer between Wahlert and those who decide the cases.
“I believe she is violating the law because she has interjected a political appointment over the administrative law judges and that’s her,” Dotzler told reporters during a press conference at the statehouse.
Because the judges are paid with federal money, Dotzler says he’s written to the U.S. Department of Labor to request a federal investigation of the agency, and whether Wahlert—who was appointed by Governor Terry Branstad—has had undue influence on their rulings for unemployment claims. Dotzler said Wahlert would have been motivated to do so, because when an employee wins a case, the state ultimately pays their unemployment benefits.
The IWD issued a statement Wednesday in response to Dotzler’s claims, saying the Department of Labor visited the agency last week for a routine monitoring check and found nothing amiss. An IWD spokesperson said Wahlert was unavailable for comment.