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Jury finds Iowa prisons lawyer did not suffer discrimination

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A jury has found that the longtime top lawyer for the Iowa Department of Corrections did not suffer discrimination due to his age or Hispanic ethnicity under his former boss.

A Polk County jury ruled Friday that Michael Savala did not prove that his treatment by the department’s former director amounted to discrimination based on age, race, color or national origin. The verdict was a victory for the state, which will not have to pay him any damages.

Savala, 56, has been with the department that operates Iowa’s prisons for more than two decades, serving as its in-house lawyer. He is also among the highest-ranking Hispanic employees in the Iowa executive branch.

Savala filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging that former department director Jerry Bartruff did not include him in staff meetings and strategy retreats and told him he no longer wanted Savala to supervise employees. He alleged that Bartruff did not complete Savala’s job performance reviews for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, even though they are required under Iowa code, costing him thousands of dollars in wages.

Savala alleged that younger, white employees were treated more favorably by Bartruff, who has since retired.

Lawyers defending the state argued that any alleged slights Savala suffered were not “severe or pervasive” harassment and that Bartruff’s failure to complete performance reviews was not discriminatory. They said that Bartruff only completed 7 out of roughly 40 evaluations he should have completed for staffers who reported to him.