City Allowed to Fire At-Will Police Officer Who Was Charged But Not Convicted With Crime

Charles Borschel was hired by the City of Perry, Iowa in 1987 as a police officer. Borschel was an “at-will” employee, and was neither covered by Civil Service rules nor a collective bargaining agreement which granted him job protections.

In 1988, allegations were made that Borschel had sexually abused his fifteen-year-old daughter. Borschel was suspended with pay pending further investigation. When the investigation was concluded and no criminal charges were filed, Borschel returned to active duty as a Perry police officer.

In March 1991, Borschel was arrested and charged with sexual abuse in the third degree. The allegations against him stemmed from his alleged sexual abuse of his daughter during the spring and summer of 1988. Before Borschel’s trial, the Perry Police Chief fired him. Borschel was subsequently acquitted of the sexual abuse charge.

Borschel brought a lawsuit for wrongful termination against the City. The Iowa Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that Borschel was an at-will employee who could be terminated for any reason.

Borschel contended that there are several well-recognized exceptions to the “at-will employee doctrine.” The exceptions include restrictions on employers from discharging employees who file workers’ compensation claims or make complaints about workplace safety. Borschel argued that the exceptions to the at-will employee rule should be expanded to cover employees who are charged with but not convicted of a crime.

The Iowa Supreme Court rejected Borschel’s argument. While the Court agreed with Borschel that a statutory presumption of innocence exists in the Iowa Criminal Code, it held that “we do not believe this statute implies a public policy applicable in an employment context. While a defendant charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty, this right is limited to criminal proceedings.”

Accordingly, the Court upheld a trial court decision sustaining Borschel’s termination and dismissing his lawsuit.

Borschel v. City of Perry, 512 N.W.2d 565 (Iowa 1994).