Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Iowa employment discrimination. The purpose of Iowa Civil Rights Act is to protect workers in Iowa from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Iowa employment law and how the law protects you.
The Iowa Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of age (18 or older), race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability (physical or mental), or pregnancy, or to retaliate for opposition to discrimination or participation in proceedings. There are also local ordinances that provide broader protections in some cities (such as for sexual orientation), and you should see whether you live in a city with its own Human Rights Commission.
In Iowa, a discrimination complaint can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.
The Iowa anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 4 and 14 employees, you should file with the ICRC, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency; however, some Iowa attorneys recommend that you file with the ICRC first for all types of discrimination claims especially because the state has a shorter period in which you must file.
To file a claim with the ICRC, contact its office. More information about filing a claim with the ICRC can be found at the ICRC website.
Iowa Civil Rights Commission
Grimes State Office Building
400 E. 14th Street
Des Moines, IA 50309-1858
Phone: (515) 281-4121
Toll-Free: (800) 457-4416
Fax: (515) 242-5840
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC How to File page.
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC’s state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
Do not delay in contacting the ICRC or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the ICRC (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible, but if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
As mentioned above, you may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Some cities and counties in Iowa (including Des Moines, Mason City, Dodge and Cedar Rapids) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. If your case is not resolved by the ICRC or EEOC, however, you may need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the ICRC and allow a period of time for initial processing and investigation. The ICRC may issue a closure called an ‘administrative closure’ after which you can then find a lawyer and file a suit in court. (Please note that if the ICRC conducts an investigation and makes a finding of “no probably cause,” – a finding that your case is without merit – you are not allowed to go to court under state law).
However, because Iowa state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many Iowa attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court using federal and state law. Most cases may be filed in either state or federal court, but if you file a case in state court a defendant employer can request removal, to move the case to federal court, because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA. Punitive damages (damages to punish the employer) are not allowed under state law, but may be awarded, subject to limits or caps, under federal law.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue,” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive it.)
After your case has been pending with the ICRC for at least 60 days, then you may request a similar “right-to-sue” letter from ICRC to proceed with your state claim. Since the law requires the ICRC to process the case within 120 days, however, it may be best to wait that long. Once you have requested the administrative release and received it, a lawsuit based on your state claim must be filed within 90 days of the date ICRC issues the release. For this reason, if you can find a lawyer first, before requesting the release, that is the best way to proceed.
These deadlines are called the statutes of limitations. If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, and do not already have one, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case, and that may prevent you from filing other types of claims too.