Judge: Man fired for coaching employee to be ‘unattractive’ can’t collect unemployment pay

Theodore Fuhs worked at Life Connections

By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa administrative law judge has ruled a man fired for coaching an employee to make herself unattractive by wearing baggy clothes from Salvation Army and avoiding makeup can no longer collect unemployment benefits.

An initial hearing on June 27 found evidence did not support workplace misconduct by Theodore Fuhs, but Judge Randy L. Stephenson reversed the ruling last week. Fuhs, a former behavior counselor supervisor at Life Connections, was fired June 11 for sexual harassment, according to Stephenson’s ruling.

Life Connections, which provides family services for behavioral health interventions and therapy, was founded to serve Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas in 2009, and now has locations across Iowa, including Anamosa, Monticello and Mason City, according to its website.

Sexual harassment remains a common issue in the workplace, particularly for women.

In 2011, there were 11,364 complaints of sexual harassment, including 84 percent by women, made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and local Fair Employment Practices agencies around the country. A 2011 Washington Post/ABC News poll found one in four women and one in 10 men said they’ve experienced sexual harassment, but many cases of sexual harassment go unreported due to a lack of awareness, fear of retaliation or a belief the complaint will be mishandled.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment,” according to American Association of University Women.

On June 1, Fuhs was “coaching” a female employee after a client referenced that she was attractive, according to Stephenson’s ruling. Fuhs told the employee she “needed to wear baggy clothes, shop for them at the Salvation Army, not wear makeup and make her appearance unattractive.”

Fuhs does not have a listed number, and Life Connections declined to comment.

The employee filed a grievance, and Fuhs was fired June 11 after an investigation, according to the decision. Fuhs admitted to making the comments, but minimized his conduct, according to the decision.

Fuhs comments were not related to any dress code violations, according to the decision.

In disagreeing with the initial ruling that allowed Fuhs to collect benefits, Stephenson wrote the evidence substantiated workplace misconduct.

“Claimant’s coaching comments are more than just bad judgment,” Stephenson wrote in the decision. “He should have known that telling a subordinate employee to go shop for baggy clothes at a Salvation Army because she is attractive is offensive and a serious violation of the employer sexual harassment policy.”

Stephenson’s ruling was filed Aug. 8. Three witnesses for the employer participated, but Fuhs did not. Fuhs later stated that he was out of town and requested the case be reopened. Stephenson denied that request.

Fuhs had been collecting unemployment benefits for four weeks, and Stephenson wrote that he had been overpaid $875.

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