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Whistleblower Lawsuit Continues in Lee County, Trial Date Set

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A whistleblower lawsuit filed against Lee County will go to trial in late November. This comes after a judge denied an attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Diana VerDught worked as an administrative assistant for the Lee County Conservation Board for nearly 18 years. She said in court records that she quit her job in 2014 because of what she described as “intolerable work conditions.”

VerDught said she was harassed by other county employees and subject to more strict discipline because she told her supervisor and members of the county board about violations by county employees. The violations include mismanagement, plagiarism, abuse of funds, and abuse of authority.

VerDught initially filed her lawsuit in south Lee County District Court in early 2014. She later withdrew and re-filed it in Sept. 2015.

Lee County sought to have the lawsuit dismissed by asking District Court Judge John Linn for summary judgment. That’s when a judge rules on the merits of a case or a specific aspect of the case.

In this case, the county argued three points, according to court records.

  1. “Plaintiff (VerDught) is not an employee of Lee County, Iowa.”
  2. “Lee County Iowa and the Lee County Conservation Board are separate legal entities and separate employers.”
  3. “There is no genuine issue of material fact that Lee County, Iowa took no adverse employment action against Plaintiff (VerDught).”

Judge Linn disagreed with those arguments in his four-page ruling. He wrote that municipalities (cities, counties, townships, school districts, and other units of local government) are subject to tort liability.

“There is no precedent in Iowa law which states that a county conservation board is a municipality under Iowa Code 670.1(2)… Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to (VerDught), the Lee County Conservation Board is more similar to a municipality department such as a drainage district than it is to a municipality such as a city or county and is therefore not a municipality which may be held liable in tort.”

Linn also noted that VerDught’s paychecks came from Lee County, not the Conservation Board.

“For these reasons, the Court finds that (Lee County) has not met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” wrote Linn.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 29.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.