MM Curator summary
New details in lawsuit reveal that the former Director was trying to blow the whistle on mis-use of federal funds to pay salary for a Governor’s aide.
The article below has been highlighted and summarized by our research team. It is provided here for member convenience as part of our Curator service.
He seeks damages for 2019 DHS firing
Former DHS director Jerry Foxhoven holds a news conference with Attorney Thomas Duff at Duff Law Firm in West Des Moines on Aug. 1, 2019. (KC McGinnis/Freelance)
DES MOINES — A former state agency director is seeking his day in court, alleging he was wrongly terminated by Gov. Kim Reynolds and her staff in June 2019 for questioning the legality of using federal Medicaid funds in a salary dispute he sought to disclose to the Attorney General’s Office.
Jerry Foxhoven, who served as Reynolds’ director of the Iowa Department of Human Services for two years, has filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court seeking financial damages for his wrongful discharge in violation of public policy that he claims occurred “because he refused to engage in illegal activity” that amounted to “committing Medicaid fraud and misuse of federal monies.”
The lawsuit filed against Reynolds, her chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol and former legal counsel Sam Langholz contends a dispute arose over the continued DHS funding of a staff position within the governor’s office that Foxhoven felt no longer fit the purpose under which the arrangement was originally made.
Foxhoven said he questioned the legality of the ongoing agreement, and stated he wanted an opinion from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Reynolds’ staff requested his resignation before he could ask for that legal advice.
The wrongful termination lawsuit alleges that Reynolds, Gongol and Langholz “terminated Foxhoven in order to prevent him from disclosing information he reasonably and in good faith believed constituted a violation of the law, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds or abuse of authority.”
According to the suit, Foxhoven was given no reason for his “sudden and immediate termination” other than being told by the administration that “we’re going in a different direction.”
During a news conference days after Foxhoven’s departure, Reynolds told reporters that many factors went into her decision and that she planned to take the department “in a new direction.”
In his legal petition, Foxhoven contends the wrongful termination – which was “willful and wanton” and done in “reckless disregard of his rights” — caused him to suffer and continue suffering substantial loss of earnings and benefits, as well as emotional distress and damage to his reputation. He did not request a specific financial amount but is seeking “exemplary and punitive damages” and other compensation.
In August 2019, Foxhoven filed a complaint against the state with the State Appeal Board seeking $2 million for wrongful dismissal. According to the board, the claim was withdrawn after the six-month tort requirement so no action was taken by the state panel.