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What's Really Going on When You Receive an Iowa Civil Rights Commission Complaint? - February 16, 2018

When an employer receives an official notice from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission or any other agency, it can cause a slight elevation of blood pressure and potentially a drop in your stomach as you open the envelope to see pages and pages of documentation. You begin to wonder just what the heck is going on.  There are numerous policies and practices an employer can have in place to help lessen the risk of receiving an Iowa Civil Rights Commission complaint, including consistent discussions, training, and evenly applied discipline. But once you receive a complaint, what exactly happens?


In this three-part blog post series, we will cover every step of the process from the initial complaint to the determination. We will also discuss when an ICRC complaint moves to litigation in the court system.


First, the initial complaint. The first thing you will receive is the initial complaint containing:

  • An explanation of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission process
  • The core of the complaint, including an indication of what the employee or ex-employee believes is the basis of discrimination such as sex, race, or age. 
  • A list of persons to whom the complaint has been sent. This list indicates those persons are being named as individuals in the complaint and are therefore essentially defendants. 
  • A narrative statement, either from the prior employee or his/her counsel
  • A series of blank questionnaires for you to complete 

Preliminary Assessment

It is important to remember this documentation typically requires a response within 30 days of receipt. A complaint is not an indication that discrimination has been found or that it even occurred. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission does very little, if any, preliminary screening before a complaint is sent to an employer. 


Technically, a complaint cannot be made under the Iowa Civil Rights Act unless it is made within 300 days of the date of the event and the employer maintains four or more employees.  However, even this basic assessment of claims for jurisdiction is sometimes overlooked, depending upon the facts provided to the Commission by the Complainant.  You may receive a complaint of an instance where the Iowa Civil Rights Commission does not have jurisdiction to evaluate the complaint.  Some issues that the ICRC does not have jurisdiction over:

  • Employers with fewer than four employees are not subject to the requirements of the Iowa Civil Rights Act
  • The complaint relates to the Family and Medical Leave Act, safety issues, or workers’ compensation

It is important to assess the complaint in relationship to the nature and type of claims made.


Employer Response and Submission

The first response to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission complaint may include a narrative response on the part of the employer, typically called a Position Statement, as well as completion of some questionnaires.  You are not required by law to complete the Commission’s questionnaires, but note that they do provide a fairly good indication of the type of information the Commission will evaluate. 


In some instances, a simple narrative response may serve you better, particularly where a case lacks complexity.  If you do not provide supporting documentation when you provide the response, it is likely, unless the case is administratively screened out, that the Commission will request such documentation. 


Common documents to provide include personnel policies and handbooks, training manuals, the personnel file of the employee making the complaint, any termination or similar documentation, workers’ compensation documentation if the foundation of the claim is a disability claim, and similar items. You are not required to provide documents, however, failure to provide documentation may result in the complaint being screened-in for further investigation. 


It is always a balance to determine what is appropriate and necessary and what should be held back based on the needs of future discovery or potential litigation issues. It is strongly recommended that you consult with your attorney to create responses to any claims, as something that seems quite simple and straightforward in the beginning can later result in a litigation black hole.


Various states differ on the nature and type of information required. Over the last several years in Iowa, the Commission has looked for “admissible” evidence. In other words, statements supported by documentation or in the form of an affidavit.  This is also a balance as you do not want to pin managers and others to an early story which may change later as you discover more facts. 


Once the response has been submitted to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission there is no clear-cut timeline as to when the Commission will take action, as they are not required to follow one.  It could vary from a few weeks to multiple months before you hear from the Commission again. 


After 60 days have elapsed, complainants can request a right-to-sue letter which would allow them to remove the case from the Commission and file a lawsuit in state or federal court. Employers do not have the right to ask that the case be removed from the commission, that right belongs solely to the complainant.


In the next post in this series, we will cover potential outcomes from the initial complaint.



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