Former ISU employee awarded $1.25 million in lawsuit against Iowa State

Frances Myers

A former ISU employee has been awarded more than $1.25 million in a lawsuit against Iowa State.

Dennis Smith was falsely accused of being a “potential terrorist or mass murderer” by his superiors, according to the Des Moines Register. Smith, a former employee of the College of Engineering’s marketing department, had informed former ISU President Gregory Geoffroy of mismanagement by Pamela Reinig, then director of the marketing department.

According to the Ames Tribune, “in 2007, Smith submitted a complaint to the engineering department’s dean about Reinig’s management of the department.”

Smith had come back to work in March of 2007 after taking family medical leave to care for his wife. During Smith’s time off, Reinig had promoted her personal friend, Eric Dieterle, to a position overseeing Smith, instead of promoting Smith as she had promised. Smith had opposed Dieterle’s hiring and was originally promised by Reinig he would not be in a position supervising Smith.

When Smith complained to Reinig, she referred him to dean of engineering, Mark Kushner. During this time, Smith found that Reinig had not submitted an application for Smith’s promotion as she had claimed.

Smith said Reinig had falsified past employment records in order to conceal a promise to give Smith a raise. This claim later was found to be true, and “university officials were tipped to discrepancies in Reinig’s handling of the department. An internal audit found that Reinig had been stealing money from the university, cashing checks for work done by outside companies by the ECM employees,” according to the Ames Tribune article.

Reinig was placed on paid administrative leave in January 2008 and resigned two months later, eventually being charged and found guilty of first-degree theft and given two years of probation for stealing more than $10,000 from Iowa State, according to the Des Moines Register.

Smith was fired in 2010. In April of 2012, a jury ordered Iowa State to pay $500,000 in damages, saying that the university had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the dismissed employee.

The case then was tried under the whistle-blower law, which is what awarded Smith $1.25 million Wednesday, June 6. The case finally made it to trial, said William Graham, attorney for Smith, “because ISU employees went to extreme lengths over several years to destroy Smith’s reputation.”

According to the Register’s article, this case may be the first to trial under the state’s nearly 30-year-old whistle-blower law for public employees.

Iowa State intends to appeal this decision.