By Ben Roach
On October 3, 2012, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued its decision in Zwanziger v. O'Brien, No. 2-390/11-1548 (Iowa Ct. App. October 3, 2012), and held there was no right to a jury trial for a wrongful discharge claim under one section of Iowa's Public Employee Whistleblower Statute. See Iowa Code Section 70A.29. The specific statutory language at issue in Zwanziger states:
A person who violates subsection 1 is liable to an aggrieved employee for affirmative relief including reinstatement, with or without back pay, or any other equitable relief the court deems appropriate, including attorney fees and costs.
Iowa Code Section 70A.29(3)(a).
The Zwanziger decision follows a trend in Iowa courts finding that a jury trial right is not fundamental when a cause of action is purely statutory. Important to the Court of Appeals was the absence of language in the statute specifically invoking or authorizing a jury trial. In Zwanziger, the Court ultimately concluded that the whistleblower statute offered only equitable relief and, because there is no jury trial right in purely equitable matters, there is no right to a jury trial under the whistleblower statute.
While the Zwanziger decision applies specifically to the Public Employee Whistleblower Statute at issue in the case, its impact could be felt in other statutory causes of action. There are several Iowa statutes authorizing employment-based claims that contain language identical to or similar to that found in the Public Employee Whistleblower Statute at issue in Zwanziger.