Funeral Industry News

State Suspends License of Iowa Funeral Director

November 13, 2009

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State Suspends License of Iowa Funeral Director

image The Iowa Board of Mortuary Science has granted an appeal by the state and suspended the license of an Audubon funeral director.

Mark Kessler of Kessler Funeral Homes Inc. had been on a one-year probation for unethical conduct and practices detrimental to the public. In early October the board had also fined Kessler — accused of verbally abusing and demeaning an intern — and ordered him to take sexual-harassment training and continuing education.

The state appealed and at a hearing last week persuaded the board to suspend Kessler indefinitely.

An intern who worked for Kessler in 2004-06 filed a complaint with the board in June 2007 alleging that Kessler verbally harassed her about her homosexuality and engaged in other inappropriate behavior.

The intern, an unmarried mother of four, claimed that Kessler called her insulting names; dropped items on the floor, asked her to pick them up, unzipped his pants and asked her to perform oral sex “while she was down there”; said she would have to sleep with him to get a raise; made inappropriate references to her children; appeared at her home drunk on several occasions and made inappropriate comments; threw objects at her, including newspapers, tent stakes and towels and wash cloths he’d used in the shower; kept a keg of beer at the funeral home and drank while working; required her to work excessive hours without an established schedule; and didn’t provide employment benefits he’d promised.

The intern, who has been identified as Traci Smith, also alleged that Kessler repeatedly described how he could kill his wife and on two occasions sent her to view guns offered for sale by estates after saying he wanted to kill his wife if she made trouble during divorce and bankruptcy proceedings.

Smith quit in August 2006 and was granted unemployment benefits following two appeals.

After filing her complaint, Smith claimed Kessler was harassing her by making phone calls and driving past her house.

Smith also reported to the state Division of Criminal Investigation and Securities Bureau that Kessler was engaging in illegal business practices. Each agency conducted an investigation that resulted in no charges.

Kessler, 54, denied most of the allegations brought by Smith but did admit to having frustrations about his divorce and keeping a beer keg in the basement of his funeral home, according to Iowa Board of Mortuary Science case documents.

One funeral home employee corroborated the intern’s claims of name-calling and inappropriate remarks. The board said a second employee rebuked the intern’s claims of offensive remarks and conduct but was not persuasive.

In a 13-page order, the board said it was convinced Kessler engaged in unethical and detrimental conduct over a two-year period by verbally abusing Smith through name calling, lewd remarks and offensive comments about her sexual orientation; and engaging in other inappropriate and demeaning conduct.

“This appalling behavior is particularly abhorrent in the context of (Kessler’s) position of trust,” the board wrote.

It was inappropriate for Kessler to keep a beer keg in the work area of his funeral home, and that contributed to an unprofessional and negative work atmosphere, the order says.

The board noted that Kessler’s “inconsistent and self-serving statements” diminished his credibility. As an example, the board said Kessler initially said he wasn’t impressed by Smith and hired her out of fear over being sued but later claimed he knew Smith was a homosexual and wanted to hire her to help her realize her dream of becoming a funeral director.

In suspending Kessler’s license indefinitely, the board said it would not consider reinstatement until Kessler completes a mental and sexual evaluation.

Kessler was permanently banned from supervising interns and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $405 in hearing fees within 30 days.

Kessler and his attorney, Julie Schumacher of Denison, were unavailable for comment.

Kessler has said he intends to appeal the suspension.