IA High Court Upholds Finding In Wrongful Termination Case

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: wrongful discharge.

Terri Aleta Rivera v. Woodward Resource Center and State of Iowa. IA wrongful discharge

In 2006, Terri Rivera was fired from her job as a residential treatment worker at Woodward Resource Center. She filed a wrongful discharge suit in Dallas County, in which she alleged that she was fired because of complaints about suspected patient abuse. At trial, she testified that she had seen a coworker force a patient to eat mayonnaise until he gagged, eat a meal into which the patient had vomited, and put shot sauce in the person's eyes. She testified that she had reported this to supervisors, but she was fired for making too many such complaints. The defendant took the position that the firing was attendance related.

After the jury rejected found in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed, and the case was heard by the Iowa Supreme Court. On appeal, she argued that the trial court had erred in instructing the jury, since the definition given to the jury on whether an improper purpose was the "determining factor" in the firing was unnecessarily narrow. In particular, the trial court had instructed the jury, "if the defendant would have made the decision to discharge the plaintiff even if she had not reported suspected abuse, the reports were not the determining factor."

The court, without squarely deciding the issue, concluded that the instruction might have over-emphasized one issue of the case. Nonetheless, in this case, the Court found that any error was harmless, and affirmed the lower court.

No. 14-0194 (Iowa June 30, 2015).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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