What You Should Know About Employment Discrimination

May 15, 2015

Not all forms of employment discrimination are illegal.  What?! It’s true.  Federal, state, and municipal law all regulate employment discrimination.  Iowa anti-discrimination laws are broader than the federal law.  Under IowaState law, if the company has at least four employees, it is illegal to discriminate in employment (hiring, termination, promotion, job assignment) on the basis of age (over 18), color, creed (look it up), gender identity, mental disability, national origin, physical disability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and retaliation for complaining about any of these, even if the original complaint is baseless.  Whew!

Employees Take Note:

Your employer can terminate your employment for any reason it wants, unless it violates a law.  For example, you can be lawfully terminated for arguing with your boss, being late for or missing work, surfing the web while you are supposed to be working, using the copy machine for personal reasons, or even because your boss wants to hire her friend instead.  However, if the employer treats your misdeed differently than it treats another employee’s misdeed, AND you are in a protected class that is different than the class of the other employee, you may still have a claim.  For example, if a male employee is not disciplined for being late to work 3 times, but a female employee is, then the reason for the difference may be because the male is receiving preferential treatment.  That is illegal.  In order to make a claim, you MUST first follow the company procedure for how to report suspected discrimination.  If you do not follow the company policy and do not have a good reason for not following the policy (like the person discriminating against you is the person you would report it to), then the employer can claim they did not know and should not be held responsible.   If you have reported it and no positive change resulted, you MUST, next, file a claim with the Iowa Civil RightsCommission.  You do not need a lawyer to do that. You can file a claim online at their web site: https://icrc.iowa.gov.


Employers Take Note:

If you have a solid procedure for reporting discrimination, and employees are trained how to use it, your company may be able to avoid liability if the employee does not use it.  If an employee has filed an internal or external complaint, instruct your management to avoid treating that employee in any negative way as a protest against the employee for having complained.  This is called retaliation.  An employee can win a claim for retaliation, even if the underlying claim of discrimination is unfounded.