What Kinds of Discrimination are Illegal in Iowa Workplaces?

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Posted by Laura Schultes

Every day Iowans face discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, not all discrimination is illegal. Knowing what types of discrimination are illegal is the first step to understanding if you have a claim.

The first thing you need to know is that not all discrimination in the workplace is illegal. An employer can cross the line from legal to illegal if they treat an employee differently because an employee belongs to a classification that is protected by state or federal law.

Protected classifications are very specific, and they can include:

  • Age
  • Religion
  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Disability

Depending on where in Iowa you are located, you may also belong to a protected class based on your marital or familial status.

If you are being treated differently for a reason OTHER than belonging to a protected class, you may not have a case. For example, a boss who treats you less favorably simply because you are outspoken or challenge authority is not illegal. To have a discrimination case, you will need to tie the unfavorable treatment to a classification that has legal protection. 

Even though Iowa is an “at-will” employment state, you have rights when it comes to being discriminated against due to your membership in a protected class. Even “at-will” employees can bring protected class discrimination claims against their employers.

What Does Discrimination Look Like?

Discrimination can take a variety of forms in the workplace. However, to support a legal claim, the different treatment must be based on the employee’s protected class status AND involve an adverse employment action.

An adverse employment action is something that affects the terms and conditions of employment in a negative way. Examples of this include:

  • Reducing pay or benefits
  • Demotion or refusal to promote
  • Refusing to hire an employee specifically due to their protected class
  • Firing or constructively discharging an employee specifically due to their protected class

An employer cannot legally base these types of decisions on an employee’s membership in a protected class. So for example, an employer cannot deny a promotion to a female employee, or pay her less, because she is a woman.

What Are Your Rights?

“At-will” employees in Iowa still have the right to bring a discrimination claim against their employer.  You also have the right to rely on indirect or circumstantial evidence.

Very few employers who discriminate against employees admit the true reason for doing so. They will instead terminate you and blame it on your poor work performance or attendance issues.  You have the right to challenge the stated reason using circumstantial evidence to show that the reason the employer gives for the adverse employment action is not what truly motivated the decision. We find that the following types of circumstantial evidence can be helpful:

·   The lack of any warnings, prior discipline, or opportunity to improve

·   Documents or other evidence showing that other employees engaged in the same or similar conduct and were not fired

·   An employer’s failure to follow its own policies

·   An otherwise good work history

While these things standing alone are NOT illegal, they can help prove, indirectly, that unlawful discrimination occurred.

How Much Time Do You Have to File a Discrimination Claim in Iowa?

There is a limited amount of time you to bring a discrimination claim against your employer. In Iowa, you must take legal action within 300 days of the discriminatory act.

If you have been fired, the 300-day deadline may be easy to figure out. However, there are instances where it may be more difficult to figure out when the deadline is. In that case, you should speak with an experienced Iowa discrimination attorney.

A skilled Iowa employment lawyer can explain the legal steps necessary to begin a discrimination case. They can also advise you on the next steps to take in a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

If you feel you are being discriminated against at work, call RSH Legal today at 1-800-433-0283.

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