The first time Debra Hulett objected to the jury instructions during a trial, the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. It wasn’t luck. The move was strategic—a integral element of Debra’s approach. Strategic vision is her key weapon whether at trial or the appellate level.
Debra has a particular knack for recognizing where an argument or line of questioning will lead. Long before a trial begins, Debra evaluates the likely outcomes associated with each argument. That strategic insight ultimately guides her clients to successful results—as in that U.S. Supreme Court case. “I put together a strategy that will put my client in the best position and achieve their goals for the case,” she says.
During a clerkship with a federal judge, Debra learned the importance of articulating arguments clearly and concisely. She relishes presenting an employer’s case so it stands out before a judge, and her strength in legal writing fuels her appellate practice. “When I work on appellate briefs, I focus on making the argument interesting for the judge or justice,” she says. “It’s important to capture the court’s interest.”
In her employment work with ERISA life, health, and disability claims, she finds a solution to fit each client’s needs. “I work toward accomplishing the result that the client wants,” she says.
The high-caliber clients the firm has brought her propel her to succeed for them. “We have clients that are top-notch and have high expectations for the work that we do,” she says. “I’m glad to have clients who want high-quality work, and we provide that here.”
For that U.S. Supreme Court case—Gross v. FBL Services, an age discrimination case—Debra credits partner Frank Harty with empowering her to lodge that first objection. “The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that changed the law was based on arguments in our merits brief.” The argument prevailed. Debra’s strategic insights do that.
PROFESSIONAL & COMMUNITY AFFILIATIONS
American Bar Association
Iowa State Bar Association
Polk County Bar Association
Iowa Defense Counsel Association
Defense Research Institute
Iowa Supreme Court Commission on Continuing Legal Education
- Chair, 2010–2011
Local Litigation Star
Order of the Coif
Journal of Corporation Law
Note and Comment Editor, 1996–1997
Phi Beta Kappa
Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009). The U.S. Supreme Court held that a plaintiff bringing an age discrimination claim under the ADEA must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the “but-for” cause of the challenged adverse employment action.
Godfrey v. State of Iowa, et al., 962 N.W.2d 84 (Iowa 2021). The Iowa Supreme Court held that the district court erred in denying the defendants’ motion for directed verdict on Iowa Civil Rights Act discrimination and retaliation claims, and constitutional-tort claim, finding defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all claims, reversing judgment for plaintiff, and remanding for entry of dismissal.
Hawkins v. Grinnell Regional Medical Center, 929 N.W.2d 261 (Iowa 2019). The Iowa Supreme Court held that district court erred in admitting exhibit containing hearsay and the hearsay was not harmless, reversing judgment for plaintiff after and remanding for new jury trial.
Ames 2304, LLC v. City of Ames, Zoning Board of Adjustment, 924 N.W.2d 863 (Iowa 2019). The Iowa Supreme Court held that the City of Ames Zoning Board of Adjustment erred in denying Ames 2304, LLC’s interior remodeling permit, affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision, reversed the district court’s judgment, and remanded to the district court for entry of an order sustaining the writ of certiorari.
Jahnke v. Deere & Co., 912 N.W.2d 136 (Iowa 2018). The Iowa Supreme Court held that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does not apply extraterritorially and the alleged discriminatory acts occurred entirely outside Iowa, directing the district court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims.
Banks v. John Deere & Co., 829 F.3d 661 (8th Cir. 2016). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the employer on the plaintiff's race discrimination and harassment claims under Title VII and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Sellers v. Deere & Co., 791 F.3d 938 (8th Cir. 2015). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the employer on the plaintiff’s age and disability discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims.
Salami v. Von Maur, Inc., No. LACL118608 (Iowa Dist. Ct. 2012 and 2014 [retrial]). Defense verdict on claims of race discrimination and racial harassment.
Campbell v. Deere & Co., et al., Case No. LACL123494 (Iowa Dist. Ct. 2013). Defense verdict in race discrimination, race harassment, and retaliation case.
Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., Case No. 4:04-cv-60209-TJS (S.D. Iowa 2010). Defense verdict in jury trial involving age discrimination claim under the ADEA and Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Polich v. Prudential Fin., Inc., 646 F.3d 1116 (8th Cir. 2011). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for long-term disability insurer, finding insurer’s requests for independent medical examination and raw data in lieu of examination were reasonable under Iowa law.
Ernster v. Luxco, Inc., 596 F.3d 1000 (8th Cir. 2010). Court of Appeals affirmed entry of judgment on defense verdict after jury trial regarding issue of whether the plaintiff was an employee or independent contractor of the defendant. (Plaintiff alleged age discrimination claims under the ADEA and ICRA).
Huffman v. AADG, Inc., 2010 WL 624855 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2010). Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s common law claim that he was subject to harassment, constructive discharge, and demotion because of his workplace injury.
Stewart v. Iowa Machinery & Supply Co., Inc., 772 N.W.2d 15 (Iowa Ct. App. 2009). Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed district court’s summary judgment ruling dismissing the plaintiffs’ civil conspiracy claims because section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act preempted the claims.
Cerwinske v. Cambrex Charles City, Inc., 2009 WL 331365 (8th Cir. Feb. 12, 2009). Court of Appeals affirmed district court’s denial of plaintiff’s post-judgment motion; District court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s claims of sex discrimination, harassment, and retaliation under Title VII and the ICRA, and dismissed case in its entirety.
SPEECHES & PUBLICATIONS
“POWADA: A Gross Overreaction,” Defense Update, The Iowa Defense Counsel Association Newsletter, Spring 2012 (co-author)
“COBRA Continuation Insurance: Is Pre-Existing Coverage Under a Spouse's Group Health Plan a Terminating Event?” 22 J. Corp. L. 4 (1997)