Iowa Sexual Harassment Information

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Area of Law: 

Sexual harassment falls under sexual discrimination, which is defined as treating a person differently because of their sex, usually female, by not necessarily. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) provides free legal services to Iowans who believe they have been victims of sexual harassment or discrimination in various areas, including employment and education, via a complaint investigation and findings process.


For victims of sexual harassment at work, the ICRC’s fact sheet, “Sample Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” offers free legal assistance by providing information about filing a sexual harassment complaint against an employer. This publication can be found here.


According to the abovementioned fact sheet, sexual harassment is more concerned with the misuse of one person’s power over another person than sex. Federal law prohibits employment discrimination because of a person’s sex, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, has issued explicit guidelines addressing sexual harassment at work. Iowa Code doesn’t expressly prohibit sexual harassment or offer a definition, but Iowa’s courts have a history of recognizing sexual harassment as a form of sexual discrimination, which is prohibited by Iowa law.


One type of sexual harassment that is recognized in Iowa is “Quid Pro Quo,” or “This for that,” which can refer to a job, raise, promotion, or other work condition being provided, offered, or withheld based on a sexual favor or request. The other type of sexual harassment is a “hostile work environment,” which is derived from a pattern or prevalence of sexual innuendos, jokes, comments, or displays of offensive material at work. The key phrases used to prove or demonstrate the occurrence of sexual harassment are “unwelcome” and “of a sexual nature.” Types of actions which may constitute sexual harassment include physical behavior, verbal behavior, visual displays, or hazing.


In addition to the prohibition of sexual discrimination in employment, Iowa state law also proscribes sexual discrimination and thus sexual harassment in the areas of housing, public accommodation, credit, and education. If you believe you have been sexually harassed in or by a primary, secondary, or post-secondary school, go here to access free legal aid concerning sexual harassment in education.


Prior to suing someone in court, victims of sexual harassment or discrimination are required to allow either the local civil rights agency or the ICRC to provide legal assistance through the complaint and investigation process. The ICRC’s website provides an abundance of free legal aid in the form of articles, written both in English and Spanish, as well as links to federal and state statutory language governing sexual harassment and discrimination. The ICRC website also contains a link to local civil rights agencies. These agencies are found cities that have their own civil rights ordinances and processes for investigating complaints. These local agencies handle discrimination and complaints on behalf of the ICRC. Complaints must be filed in Iowa with the ICRC or a resident’s respective local agency within 180 days from the date when the most recent act of sexual harassment occurred.


The Iowa Bar Association’s FIND-A-LAWYER Service contains a searchable database of attorney’s providing legal services in employment and civil rights practice areas. Iowa Legal Aid provides free or low cost legal help to Iowans with low incomes.