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Entries in Iowa (45)

Saturday
Jun292013

Iowa Supreme Court to Reconsider Case of Mom Fired for Being ‘Too Hot’

ABC News(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- A woman fired from her job for being too "irresistible" will get another chance at her sex-discrimination lawsuit after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this week to reconsider the case.

Melissa Nelson says she spent 10 happy years working as a dental hygienist for Dr. James Knight until he blindsided her with a pink slip, claiming Nelson was a threat to his marriage.

The all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled in December that Knight was within his legal rights when he fired Nelson because the termination was not based on gender.

Knight's attorney says the decision to terminate Nelson was legal, telling ABC News he believes the court will reaffirm its decision because "the law has not changed."

"Dr. Knight's dismissal of Mrs. Nelson was perfectly legal according to all of the well-established case law not only in Iowa but in every other jurisdiction that has considered similar claims," attorney Stu Cochrane said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Nelson hopes that even if the law hasn't changed, how the judges interpret it will.

"I can tell you she was surprised and delighted by the news that the Iowa Supreme Court has withdrawn its earlier ruling," Nelson's attorney, Paige Fiedler, told ABC News in a statement. "Not only does this breathe new life into her court case, it eliminates what many of us believed was a harmful legal and misguided precedent."

The decision drew national attention and sparked much controversy.

"The only thing that's changed here is the public's reaction to the decision, which was mostly negative," said Ryan Koopmans, a Des Moines attorney who is not affiliated with the case.

Koopmans says the justices will not hear new evidence in the case but will likely be issuing a new opinion.

"There really is no reason to grant rehearing six months after the decision was made unless someone is seriously considering changing their mind," he said. "I think we'll definitely see at least one opinion in favor of Melissa, the question is whether it is the majority opinion or dissenting opinion."

Nelson, a married mother of two, was summoned to a meeting with Knight in 2010 while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

Nelson sued, claiming her firing was a form of gender discrimination.

According to court documents, Knight made reference to what he believed was Nelson's infrequent sex life, saying, "That's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children's activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson said she recalled one text she received from her boss asking "how often she experienced an orgasm."

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight's question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight's wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple then consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, according to Cochrane, Knight's attorney.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec272012

No Driver's Licenses for Iowa 'DREAMers'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- DREAMers -- thousands of undocumented people given a repreive from deportation by President Obama before the 2012 election -- will not be awarded driver's licenses in Iowa.

The state's Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it will not issue licenses or state identification cards to any of the illegal immigrants.

While some states, including California, Florida and Nevada, have said they will issue licenses, others, including Nebraska, Arizona and Michigan, have announced they will not.

Some groups, such as the National Immigration Law Center, have argued that deferred action recipients are eligible for licenses because they are eligible for work permits. But some states have countered that, because deferred action does not confer legal status upon recipients, state law prevents them from receiving licenses.

"The Iowa DOT understands the exercising of this prosecutorial discretion by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not grant lawful status or a lawful immigration path to persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status," the department said in a statement. "Rather, it is prosecutorial discretion extended in a blanket fashion to persons who are not lawfully authorized to be present in the United States."

The Department of Homeland Security has said repeatedly that each state is responsible for determining whether to award driver's licenses.

Immigrants' rights organizations have filed suits in several states. In Michigan, several groups, including the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a suit against Republican Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson last week for blocking licenses for DREAMers.

According to the Des Moines Register, some Iowa deferred action recipients have already received driver's licenses. One young man told the paper he was granted deferred action in October and issued a license a short time later after he passed the written and practical exams.

Paul Trombino, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said he knows of only one license and one non-operator identification card that have been issued so far. Those will no longer be valid and will have to be returned, he said.

The deferred action policy has drawn criticism from some Republican lawmakers in Iowa, including Representative Steve King and Senator Chuck Grassley, who have called it an overreach of executive power.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Dec232012

Dental Assistant Fired for Being ‘Irresistible’ Is ‘Devastated’

ABC News(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- After working as a dental assistant for ten years, Melissa Nelson was fired for being too “irresistible” and a “threat” to her employer’s marriage.

“I think it is completely wrong,” Nelson said.  ”I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force.”

On Friday, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that James Knight, Nelson’s boss, was within his legal rights when he fired her, affirming the decision of a lower court.

“We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right,” said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. “Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She’s an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate.”

For Nelson, a 32-year-old married mother of two, the news of her firing and the rationale behind it came as a shock.

“I was very surprised after working so many years side by side I didn’t have any idea that that would have crossed his mind,” she said.

The two never had a sexual relationship or sought one, according to court documents, however in the final year and a half of Nelson’s employment, Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.

“Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing,” the justices wrote.

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children’s activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson recalled one text she received from her boss asking “how often she experienced an orgasm.”

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight’s question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight’s wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, Cochrane said.

On Jan. 4, 2010, Nelson was summoned to a meeting with Knight while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

“Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship,” Cochrane said.

Knight acknowledged in court documents that Nelson was good at her job and she, in turn, said she was generally treated with respect.

“I’m devastated. I really am,” Nelson said.

When Nelson’s husband tried to reason with Knight, the dentist told him he “feared he would have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”

Paige Fiedler, Nelson’s attorney, said in a statement to ABC News affiliate KCRG that she was “appalled” by the ruling.

“We are appalled by the Court’s ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias.,” she wrote.

“Although people act for a variety of reasons, it is very common for women to be targeted for discrimination because of their sexual attractiveness or supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. That is discrimination based on sex,” Fiedler wrote. “Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Dec222012

State Supreme Court Rules ‘Irresistible’ Employees Can Be Fired

Comstock/Thinkstock(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- An Iowa dentist was within his legal rights when he fired a longtime employee he found to be “irresistible” and a threat to his marriage, the State Supreme Court unanimously ruled.

The seven justices, all male, affirmed on Friday a lower court’s decision in favor of Dr. James Knight, who terminated Melissa Nelson after employing her for 10 and a half years as a dental assistant.

“We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right,” said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. “Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She’s an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate.”

The two never had a sexual relationship or sought one, according to court documents, however in the final year and a half of Nelson’s employment, Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.

“Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing,” the justices wrote.

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children’s activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson recalled one text she received from her boss asking “how often she experienced an orgasm.”

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight’s question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight’s wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, Cochrane said.

On Jan. 4, 2010, Nelson was summoned to a meeting with Knight while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

“Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship,” Cochrane said.

Knight acknowledged in court documents that Nelson was good at her job and she, in turn, said she was generally treated with respect.

When Nelson’s husband tried to reason with Knight, the dentist told him he “feared he would have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”

Paige Fiedler, Nelson’s attorney, said in a statement to ABC News affiliate KCRG that she was “appalled” by the ruling.

“We are appalled by the Court’s ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias,” she wrote.

“Although people act for a variety of reasons, it is very common for women to be targeted for discrimination because of their sexual attractiveness or supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. That is discrimination based on sex,” Fiedler wrote. “Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec102012

Bodies Found Confirmed to Be Missing Iowa Cousins

FBI(EVANSDALE, Iowa) -- The two bodies found by hunters in Iowa last week are those of missing cousins Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, the state’s medical examiner’s office confirmed Monday.

The Evansdale Police Department has notified the girls’ families, according to a release by the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office. The confirmation was expected after comments last week by the police and Elizabeth’s family.

After the bodies were found by hunters in the Seven Bridges Wildlife Area in the northeastern part of the state, authorities said Wednesday they were “confident” that they had found the remains of Lyric, 11, and Elizabeth, 9.

The two girls went missing on a mid-day bike ride in July. Late Wednesday, Elizabeth’s mother Heather Collins said in a statement posted on her Facebook page that the family was aware that there were two possible outcomes and “unfortunately this is not the one that we wanted.”

The sad news comes nearly five months after the girls’ disappearance.

The two were last seen on a bike ride in the small town of Evansdale just after noon on July 13. While their bicycles and a purse were found that day by Meyers Lake, near the center of town, the search for the girls dragged on and on with no result. In the following week, authorities drained the lake and canvassed the area, but to no avail.

The Seven Bridges Wildlife Area where the bodies were found is about 25 miles from Evansdale.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec062012

Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins: Bodies Believed to Be Missing Iowa Cousins

ABC News(EVANSDALE, Iowa) -- Authorities believe two bodies found by hunters in Iowa this week are Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, two young cousins who vanished in July.

"At this time, law enforcement is confident, based upon evidence at the scene and preliminary investigation, that the bodies are those of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins," Capt. Rick Abben, chief deputy of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office, said at a news conference in Evansdale, Iowa.

Asked why authorities were so confident that the bodies were those of the two girls, Abben replied, "We have no one else that's missing in this area. We have two bodies that were found. They were smaller in stature so we have nothing else to think, at this time."

Abben noted that the state's medical examiner's office in Ankeny, Iowa, had yet to complete the positive identification of the girls.

Asked if the kidnapping investigation was now turning into a homicide investigation, Abben replied, "We are looking that way at this time."

Lyric, 11, and Elizabeth, 9, went missing on July 13 on a bike ride in the small town of Evansdale, Iowa, near Waterloo, Iowa. After hunters found two bodies in a wooded area in Seven Bridges Conservation Area on Wednesday afternoon, the families of Lyric and Elizabeth were notified and the bodies were sent to Ankeny for positive identification.

The families expressed "their gratitude to the community for their ongoing support," according to a statement released by authorities. Elizabeth's mother, Heather Collins, later posted a message on her Facebook page.

"We knew when our girls went missing that [there] would be two outcomes," she wrote. "Unfortunately this is not the one that we wanted but we know our girls [are] dancing with our savior. We know that he will continue to be with us giving us strength and comfort always."

On Wednesday night, residents of Evansdale, Iowa, gathered at Meyers Lake -- where the girls' bicycles and a purse were found -- for a candlelight vigil.

"It's hard to believe," said Lorissa Wilson, who attended the vigil. "I didn't want it to happen to the girls. They're too young to pass away, I believe."

Mary Carroll, who knew Elizabeth, said, "You don't expect it for somebody so sweet and innocent."

Another participant at the vigil, Holly Timmerman, noted that this was "not the outcome anybody wanted at all."

The Seven Bridges Conservation Area will remain closed until Monday, Abben said.

 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec052012

Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins: Bodies Found in Search for Missing Iowa Cousins

ABC News(ANKENY, Iowa) -- Nearly five months after Iowa cousins Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins disappeared, the girls' families have been told two bodies were found by hunters in a wooded area, though the identities of the bodies have not been confirmed, authorities said.

Capt. Rick Abben of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the bodies are being transported to the state's medical office in Ankeny, Iowa, for positive identification.

"It's definitely not the outcome that we wanted, obviously," Abben said. "This is a difficult thing for us to go through."

Lyric, 11, and Elizabeth, 9, vanished shortly after noon on July 13 while on a bike ride in the small town of Evansdale, Iowa, triggering a massive search that brought the town to a standstill. The girls' bicycles and a purse were quickly found near Meyers Lake, but there was no sign of the girls.

 

On the two-month anniversary of the girls' disappearance, local residents held a prayer vigil and authorities urged members of the public to provide any new information that might help them solve the case.

Authorities said the girls left Elizabeth's house in Evansdale around 12:15 p.m., were spotted at approximately 12:23 p.m. at a nearby intersection and then were seen between 12:30 and 1 p.m. on a road by the lake.

During the following week, authorities canvassed the area and drained the town's lake. Lyric's estranged parents, Misty and Dan Morrissey, at one point became the subject of intense police scrutiny because of their criminal pasts and their lack of cooperation.

Over the summer, the families received a boost when Elizabeth Smart, one of the country's most famous kidnapping survivors, offered some words of encouragement. Police found Smart after a nine-month search in Utah a decade ago.

"For as many bad things that we hear about that happen, for as many kidnappings and terrible stories about finding the remains of children, why can't these girls be the exception?" Smart told the Des Moines Register.

Elizabeth's mother, Heather Collins, told ABC News' Alex Perez in July that the wait for the girls to resurface was an agonizing one.

"A day doesn't seem like a normal day," Collins said. "It's just like it doesn't stop. It keeps dragging and dragging. You're just waiting for a time to go up to your room. You're just waiting, waiting, waiting."

"Whoever's out there, we're just begging you to bring our girls back home," she said.

A $50,000 reward had been offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the girls' disappearance.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov082012

Long-Missing Iowa Man’s Skeleton Found During Home Renovation

Iowa Department of Public Safety(SAC CITY, Iowa) -- A man was renovating his home in Sac City, Iowa, when he came across what appeared to be skeletal remains in his basement. When he called the police, authorities arrived on scene and confirmed his suspicion.

“It was found buried in a very inaccessible spot in the basement,” Sac City Chief of Police John Thomsen told ABC News. “There are suspicious circumstances to it just for where the remains were found.”

The remains were sent to the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy and possible identification, according to police. Dental records positively identified the remains as those of Mark Koster.

Koster, 58, went missing on July 4, 2009. His disappearance was investigated at the time and a search warrant served on his home turned up no signs of foul play. He was legally declared dead at his family’s request in 2010, according to ABC News’ Sioux City affiliate KCAU-TV.

He reportedly had an unidentified male roommate living with him for about three months before he disappeared, Thomsen said. Neighbors knew of the man, but do not know his name. The case is currently under investigation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct252012

Teacher's Aide Fired for Revelation of Role in Grisly 1965 Killing

Indiana State Prison| BCLUW Yearbook(CONRAD, Iowa) -- An Iowa teacher's aide has been fired from her job following the revelation that she was a member of an Indiana family notorious for torturing and killing a girl in their basement in 1965.

"A week ago today we got an anonymous report that the now Paula Pace was the previous Paula Baniszewski involved in this 1965 murder case in Indiana and it was a real attention-seeker out there, a heinous crime," Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning told ABC News Wednesday.

Paula Baniszewski was 17 years old in the summer of 1965 when a 16-year-old girl named Sylvia Likens and her sister came to stay with Baniszewski's family. In the months that followed, Likens was beaten, burned, malnourished and branded with a hot needle. Her body was found in the basement of the home in October of that year.

The case became one of the most infamous crimes in Indiana and has been the subject of several books and movies.

Baniszewski's mother Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder and Paula Baniszewski was found guilty of second-degree murder for her participation in the torture. Several other family members were also convicted.

Paula Baniszewski appealed her conviction and ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter. She served time and was released from prison in 1972. She completed her parole and moved to Iowa.

Baniszewski, now 64, has been going by the name Paula Pace and has worked for the BCLUW school district in Conrad, Iowa, since 1998. She had done some custodial work and was most recently working as a teacher's aide for special needs students.

Recently, information about Pace's true identity began circulating around Facebook and an anonymous tipster called police to tell them they should look into her background. Police immediately notified the school and both began doing background checks.

Pace's birth date matched Baniszewski's and a current photo of her beared a striking resemblance to the 1965 mugshot.

"The superintendent had called her in and she admitted to it, so she was suspended," Penning said.

The school called a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday and the seven-member board unanimously voted to fire Baniszewski.

"Paula Pace's employment was terminated at a board meeting yesterday," superintendent Ben Petty told ABC News. "Her employment was terminated for providing false information on her application."

Petty would not comment further on how she was able to lie on her application.

Penning said that Baniszewski is not facing any criminal charges and the matter is between her and the school.

Baniszewski could not be reached for comment. An Iowa phone number listed for Pace had been disconnected.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct172012

Xbox Runaways from Iowa Found in Eureka, Ill.

Crystal Sunderman | Sheriff Randall Forsyth(EUREKA, Ill.) -- Four Iowa teens who ran away from home after meeting on Xbox were arrested Tuesday and charged with trespassing at an abandoned home in Eureka, Ill., nearly 360 miles away from home.

The two boys and two girls who ranged in age from 13 to 16 disappeared together Saturday. Before that day, the boys had never met the girls in person, their families told ABC News.

The families haven't spoken directly with their children since they left, but got word today that the teens were being held at the Woodford County Correctional Facility. When the phone call came that the kids were safe, their parents were ecstatic.

"I hysterically started crying, just overwhelmed with joy. All floods of emotions. Overjoyed, relief, you name it. I couldn't believe it," said Judy Hamilton, the mother of Jazlyn Visek, 15, one of the two girls.

Visek ran off with Corey Sunderman, 16, whom she began "dating" after meeting on Xbox.

"This was her first serious boyfriend. He gave her a lot of attention she's never got from any guys," Hamilton said.

Their romance may have led to legal trouble, Hamilton said.

"They were cuffed and they are getting charges of trespass, so they will be spending the night in jail," she said.

Crystal Sunderman, Corey's mother, told ABC News she was concerned about what will come after the teens return home.

"I'm starting to worry about what am I going to do to keep Corey, to keep him safe ... We've got to fix whatever it was that made him leave. He's had some problems at school with bullying but honestly, I don't know," she said.

When Visek and Corey Sunderman left town, they were accompanied by Visek's friend Skie Floyd, 15, and Sunderman's pal Austin Boggs, 13.

The boys are from Atlantic while the girls are from Shellsburg, Iowa towns that are three and a half hours apart.

The teens were arrested by Illinois police, six hours from Atlantic. After facing an Illinois judge Wednesday, the teens will be allowed to return home, Crystal Sunderman said.

"We'll probably leave tomorrow morning (for Illinois) in hopes that maybe we can see the kids before they go to court because we haven't had a chance to talk to them at all," she said.

The boys vanished Saturday after police brought them to the Sunderman home Friday night for violating the town's curfew. When Corey's father Tony woke for work Saturday morning, he realized not only were the boys missing, but so were Crystal Sunderman's laptop and $400 from the father's recently cashed paycheck, Crystal Sunderman said.

Also missing was the 1997 gold Jeep Cherokee Tony Sunderman had brought home from his iron and metal recycling job, the mom said. The vehicle, which didn't have a license, was spotted nearly four hours away in Benton County at around 10 a.m. Saturday, the same county the missing Iowa girls call home.

By the time it was located in Illinois, it had acquired stolen license plates from Atlantic, Forsyth said.

Hamilton said she thinks the teens plotted the escape in advance.

"[Visek] had been planning for a couple weeks at least, and I had no idea," Hamilton said.

"I've learned a valuable lesson on media devices and what you allow your children to do on Xbox or Facebook," she said. "I admit I was pretty free with Jazlyn and I trusted her, and I think I gave her too much freedom."

Crystal Sunderman said she tried to be cautious about what her son did online.

"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online," Crystal Sunderman said. "I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio