IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A convenience store chain fired an Iowa manager shortly after her report to police led to the arrest of an employee who killed her newborn twins, a new lawsuit contends.
Teresa Anderson alleges in the lawsuit that Casey's General Store Inc. fired her in retaliation for prompting the investigation that led to the discovery of the dead babies in the trunk of Jackie Burkle's car in January 2012.
Anderson said Friday that her bosses told her not to call police, repeatedly said Burkle's case "was not a Casey's issue," reprimanded her while she was grieving over the twins' deaths, and fired her after she returned from stress leave.
"For a company to treat people like this, especially a huge corporation, is not OK," Anderson told The Associated Press. "And if somebody doesn't stand up, then it just continues."
A spokesman for the Ankeny, Iowa-based chain, which owns 1,750 convenience stores in 14 states, declined comment.
Casey's told Anderson that she was fired for making mistakes before she took a medical leave to cope with the tragedy. But the lawsuit claims that was a pretext, and that Anderson was fired for filing a report that led to "negative press" for Casey's.
The twins' deaths shocked Iowans. Burkle, now 24, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 50-year sentence.
Anderson started working in 2007 for Casey's in Huxley, 25 miles north of Des Moines. She later was tapped to manage a new Huxley store and hired Burkle as a cook. By fall 2011, Burkle appeared pregnant but adamantly denied it.
Anderson instructed co-workers to stop asking Burkle about it, suspecting she might give the baby up for adoption. On Jan. 5, 2012, Burkle was in discomfort and apparently near labor but refused medical treatment. She had the next day off but showed up for her shift early Jan. 7.
Burkle reported that morning that she didn't feel well and wanted to leave. Anderson arrived at the store to plead with Burkle to go to the hospital, suspecting she was in labor. Burkle insisted she was just tired and went home.
Anderson feared something was wrong and asked Huxley's police chief to come to the store. Together, they reviewed surveillance footage that showed Burkle clearly looked pregnant Jan. 5 but was noticeably smaller Jan. 7.
Anderson said she shared her concerns with her supervisor, Charlotte Miller, who told her not to call police since Burkle was no longer at work. But she told Miller she already had. Within hours, police took Burkle to a hospital where testing revealed she'd been pregnant. Police soon discovered the dead twins.
The mother of twins herself, Anderson was devastated.
She said she asked Casey's district manager Dan Gross whether she could hold a meeting to inform employees of the situation and offer support. According to the lawsuit, Gross told her she couldn't, called her "too emotional and too maternal" and said it "was not a Casey's issue."
Anderson said she was so distraught that she met with a psychiatrist and stopped at Casey's headquarters to meet with a human resources official. She said she was told again that the matter didn't involve the company.
The next day, she says, Gross came to her store with Miller and "proceeded to belittle, bully and threaten me for the next half-hour." She said she thinks they were trying to make her quit.
Anderson said she was too distraught to work, and a doctor recommended she take a two-week leave. When she returned Jan. 30, Gross and Miller fired her, saying she failed to make a deposit, clock out for a shift and complete the schedule before her leave.
"I couldn't believe it," she said.
She acknowledges not making the schedule and forgetting to clock out once. As for the deposit, she said it was made but delayed and that no money went missing.
The lawsuit contends Casey's retaliated against Anderson, now a school bus driver, in violation of state policies that encourage the reporting of child abuse.
Anderson's attorney, Jill Zwagerman, said Casey's punished her for trying to "stop what turned out to be a horrific murder."
"It seemed so instinctive to her that this was something she needed to bring to the attention of the authorities," Zwagerman said. "She should have that right."