Judge and hearing officer sue national education agency, alleging discrimination

A hearing officer and a former administrative law judge are each suing the Iowa Department of Education for alleged employment discrimination.

Randy Reiter, who was hired by the Department of Education 46 years ago at the age of 22, is suing the department in Polk County District Court, alleging age discrimination and a wage discrimination based on sex.

State records show that for the last 25 years of his employment, Reiter worked for the department’s Office of Disability Determination Services as an administrative law judge presiding over contested hearings dealing with disability benefit claims. of social security.

In 2019, a deputy bureau chief at the department began repeatedly asking Reiter when he was going to retire. In late 2017, the department reportedly promoted disability review specialist Ellen McComas to fill a vacant position as a disability hearings officer – a job that is largely the same as that of an administrative law judge.

In December 2020, McComas reportedly complained that because of her gender she was paid less than Reiter to do the same job. Shortly after, according to the lawsuit, the office informed Reiter that while his duties would remain the same, the department intended to reclassify his position as an “advanced review specialist” to reduce his salary by more than $45,000. per year.

When Reiter asked vocational rehabilitation administrator David Mitchell why he was being demoted, Mitchell reportedly replied that the department “can’t pay someone at a much higher level than another person doing the same thing.”

Reiter then filed a formal written complaint regarding his demotion and pay cut, at which point Mitchell called Reiter and said they were cutting his salary because they could not justify paying him significantly more than McComas.

Reiter reportedly replied that the bureau did it backwards, arguing that it should raise McComas’ salary, not cut his salary. Mitchell reportedly responded by saying the department should be “good stewards of Social Security funds.”

Reiter then chose to retire, knowing that if he did not do so before the reclassification, he would lose significant benefits which would be based on his rate of pay at the time of retirement.

Reiter’s lawsuit accuses the department of violating Iowa civil rights law. In its response, the agency argues that Reiter’s salaries were “based on factors other than her gender” and says her “age was not a motivating factor in decisions” related to her employment. A trial date has not yet been set.

In the meantime, McComas filed his own lawsuit against the department in Polk County District Court. She alleges that since taking up her full-time duties as a disability hearings officer in December 2017, the department has unfairly paid her a lower salary than her male counterparts, Reiter included.

In its response to that claim, the department alleged that McComas’ lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations and that McComas is not qualified for the classification of administrative law judge positions.

A trial in the McComas case is scheduled for January 2024.

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