Apr 6, 2023 - News

Democrat terminated from Iowa job after election win

Sean Bagniewski. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature

Polk County Democratic Party chair Sean Bagniewski was terminated from a state government contract position shortly after winning election to the Iowa House, he tells Axios.

Why it matters: Iowa law requires workers elected to a government office be granted a leave of absence from their regular employment.

  • Bagniewski contends his termination was directly attributable to being elected.

Catch up fast: Bagniewski was an account manager for Maximus Health Services, a company contracted to help evaluate client care in Iowa's Medicaid program.

  • He won election to the Iowa House on Nov. 8.

State of play: Iowa Medicaid director Elizabeth Matney notified Maximus in a Nov. 16 letter that Bagniewski's position is full time and that the department doesn't allow exceptions to the contract "nor do we intend to moving forward."

  • The state required Maximus to "submit a transition plan including position replacement activities within two weeks" to remain in compliance with the contract, Matney wrote.
  • Bagniewski says there were no alternative positions available and his last day at Maximus was Jan. 29.

Of note: Iowa legislative sessions begin in early January and typically meet most weekdays through April.

What they're saying: Iowa did not request Maximus terminate Bagniewski, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement to Axios.

  • Maximus has the sole discretion to make employment decisions necessary to carry out the work, the spokesperson said.
  • A Maximus spokesperson told Axios the company does not comment on employment matters.

Zoom in: Iowa's law does not require employers to pay workers while they are on leave for their elected duties.

  • Yes, but: The state government has accommodated other contract and non-contract employees who have been elected and allowed to keep their jobs, including some Bagniewski now serves with in the House, he said.
  • HHS officials told him he could keep his job and encouraged him to run but changed their tune after he won, Bagniewski added.

What's next: Bagniewski has sought legal advice but declined to say whether he plans to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

  • He was hired as the federal grant administrator for Polk County government in February.
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