Lobbyist fired in Iowa harassment case awarded unemployment

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Finance Authority lobbyist fired for retaliating against a colleague who reported sexual harassment allegations against their boss has been awarded unemployment benefits.

Administrative Law Judge Nicole Merrill ruled Monday that Wes Peterson’s conduct was “merely an isolated incident of extremely poor judgment” that didn’t disqualify him from collecting unemployment.

Peterson, the agency’s government relations director, was fired Sept. 27 following an investigation into sexual harassment by fired director Dave Jamison.

The report portrayed Peterson as a Jamison sidekick who witnessed him grabbing a colleague’s breasts at a bar in 2016.

Peterson yelled at the woman during a call after Jamison was fired last March, demanding to know whether she was among those who complained to Gov. Kim Reynolds and warning he’d falsely claim he was too drunk to remember the groping. He later texted an apology, saying he feared he’d become “collateral damage.”

Merrill says the evidence supports Peterson’s claim that he was calling the woman as a friend about a stressful work situation and didn’t understand his actions could be considered retaliation.