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By Mark Wolski
Oct. 19 — A former Iowa state employee must pay back unemployment benefits after an administrative law judge found that her Facebook post qualified as work-related misconduct ( Pollpeter v. Iowa Dep’t of Pub. Safety , Iowa Workforce Dev. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bureau, No. 16A-UI-09368-SC-T, 10/6/16 ).
Amy Pollpeter was dismissed from her crime lab analyst position in late July after saying in a Facebook post that she no longer felt safe around blacks. In the post, Pollpeter, who identified herself as an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation employee, also stated that blacks had created a more racist environment in the U.S. and that they had brought on the hate they were experiencing through their own actions.
The comments demonstrate a bias against blacks and violate state and department policy on social media posts, Administrative Law Judge Stephanie R. Callahan of the Iowa Workforce Development Unemployment Insurance Appeals Bureau held Oct. 6. That means she didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits and must reimburse the agency the $3,840 she already received, Callahan said.
Pollpeter had worked for the DCI for 11 years when she posted comments critical of the Black Lives Matter movement on her Facebook page. The comments, posted the day after five Dallas police officers were shot, said those supporting the movement could be supporting a “cop-killer.”
Pollpeter said that she no longer felt safe around blacks and that the movement was seeking special treatment and special rights rather than racial equality. She wrote that she would cross to the other side of the street if she saw a black person and that she would be watching to see if that person had a gun.
“No, I won’t shoot you, but I won’t trust you either,” Pollpeter wrote.
The post ended with “#COPSLIVESMATTER.”
Pollpeter was terminated about two weeks later for violating the DCI’s social media use policy and its code of conduct.
Iowa’s executive branch has a social media policy that prohibits employees from making disparaging comments about the state’s customers or clients, Callahan said in her decision. The policy also prohibits conduct that violates state anti-discrimination policy.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety, of which the DCI is a part, also has a social media policy barring postings that could affect an employee’s credibility, Callahan said. Agency employees are often called upon to serve as witnesses, and the policy aims to prevent them from being impeached because of biased or false statements, the decision said.
Pollpeter maintained that she was familiar with the state’s social media policy and that her post complied with it, but the judge said that the image of law enforcement presented to the public is important to its mission. As a criminalist, Pollpeter is responsible for processing and controlling evidence in crimes that could involve blacks as victims or perpetrators.
It was reasonable for the DPS to conclude that Pollpeter’s conduct indicated a bias against blacks that could affect her ability to perform her job impartially, Callahan said. The post could also affect any testimony Pollpeter gave by giving the appearance of bias, the decision said.
The post displayed a deliberate disregard of the DCI’s interests, the judge said.
Chandler L. Maxon of Hopkins & Huebner of Des Moines, Iowa, attorneys for Pollpeter, declined to comment on the ruling.
DPS officials were unavailable for comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Wolski in St. Paul, Minn. at MWolski@bna.com
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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