A social worker at the Iowa Department of Human Services will receive nearly $1 million from the state in a legal settlement stemming from an allegation of sexual harassment at the hands of a female supervisor.
The State Appeal Board, which must approve legal settlements to be paid by Iowa agencies, voted unanimously to approve the $962,500 settlement Tuesday.
It comes after the state lost a lawsuit in a related case, with a nearly $800,000 judgment to the plaintiff, and as other cases are pending.
“We’re paying out millions for these people who abuse common decency,” state Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, a member of the board, complained in an interview following the board’s meeting. “What can we do about it?”
The case involves social worker Jennifer Jackson, who said she unsuccessfully sought help to end her supervisor’s harassment by alerting the supervisor’s boss in the agency’s Des Moines area office. According to the suit, that boss —Tracy White, the plaintiff in the winning lawsuit — tried to take action, but was stymied by senior officials.
Jackson claimed her direct supervisor, Darci Fairchild:
- Required her to buy a coworker sex toys as a birthday present.
- Groped her and other employees’ breasts.
- Flashed her breasts at Jackson and other co-workers.
- Made “vulgar sexually inappropriate comments” on a daily basis.
“Supervisor Fairchild had created such a hostile environment that Plaintiff had to crawl on the floor underneath the windows to make her complaint to White so that she would not be seen by Supervisor Fairchild,” the suit alleges.
Fairchild could not immediately be reached for comment.
Top officials allegedly ignored the case
According to the suit, then-DHS director Jerry Foxhoven was among those who ignored White’s requests for action against Fairchild. Foxhoven was forced out of the agency in June 2019 following the deaths of residents at state institutions operated by the agency. Foxhoven has sued Gov. Kim Reynolds, alleging wrongful termination.
Jackson’s lawsuit alleges that White eventually took the case to officials at the state Department of Administrative Services, after which Fairchild was fired.
Yet, according to Jackson, others at the agency continued to retaliate against her while senior officials like Foxhoven made light of the problems.
According to Jackson’s suit, before making her civil rights complaint in April, Jackson asked Reynolds for a meeting to discuss the problems, but was instead referred to the state Attorney General’s Office.Your stories live here.
State already lost a related case
The case is unusual beyond the gender of the alleged harasser.
According to that suit, White’s efforts to combat sexual harassment in her job as a supervisor for the agency’s Des Moines Service Area had led to her being assigned a “life coach” and told to improve her communication skills, according to filings from her suit.
In her case, White described rampant sexual harassment including explicit discussions of sex acts, instances of workers calling each other “Daddy” or threatening spankings, and Fairchild giving sex toys to subordinates and singing lewd songs,
Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson said that the judgment White won totaled more than $1 million with attorneys’ fees and that the state is appealing the case.
He also said that following White’s win in court, he believed Jackson also was likely to prevail.
The state faces additional lawsuits and legal claims related to the Des Moines area office, including one by Fairchild, according to Thompson and a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.
Fitzgerald said addressing the situation clearly will require something more than training programs and other steps he’s seen the state take so far.
“These individuals, they know. You don’t have to tell people, ‘Don’t take money out of the cash register; that’s against the rules,'” he said. “It’s the same in my opinion with the sexual harassment issues out here.”