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Filing a Discrimination Claim – Iowa

1. I live in Iowa. What kinds of discrimination are against state law?

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, national origin, religion, or disability, or to retaliate for opposition to discrimination or participation in proceedings. There are also local ordinances which 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.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in my state?

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.

Iowa Civil Rights Commission
211 East Maple 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 http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC’s Milwaukee District Office
310 West Wisconsin Avenue
Suite 800
Milwaukee, WI 53203-2292
Phone: (414) 297-1111
TTY: (414) 297-1115

3. What are my time deadlines?

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 180 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 web site for further information.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Iowa?

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).

The state antidiscrimination law does not allow for a trial by jury on claims brought under the civil rights act, although other claims can have a jury trial. 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.