Area of Law:
Discrimination is defined simply as differential treatment. Racial discrimination is treating some individuals differently than others based on their race. The federal government, each state, and some cities have statutes or ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on a person's race, color, creed, or national origin. In Iowa, before an individual can sue someone for racial discrimination in court, they must first file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). Some cities in Iowa have their own administrative agencies which process discrimination claims for the ICRC.
The ICRC handles racial discrimination charges in education, credit, employment, housing, and public accommodation. The ICRC's website contains a wealth of free legal support regarding racial discrimination including a discrimination complaint form. Once a complainant completes the discrimination complaint form, it proceeds to an ICRC investigator for processing. The ICRC will then send a copy of the complaint to the respondent, along with some questions in order to provide the respondent with an opportunity to explain or deny the complaint. The commission will then conduct an investigation with additional questions, requests for documentation or interviews, and issue a recommendation to an administrative law judge (ALJ) who will issue a probable cause or no probable cause determination. If the ALJ finds that there is enough reason to suspect that the respondent did commit racial discrimination, the ICRC will attempt to settle the case; if that fails, the case will proceed to a hearing. The ALJ makes the final decision regarding the complaint and can order the respondent to pay damages, reinstate the employee, or allow the individual into the facility along with several other actions. Once a charge of racial discrimination has been on file with the ICRC for sixty days, the complainant can bypass the rest of the administrative agency process and proceed straight to the trial court by requesting a "right-to-sue letter." A complainant then has ninety days to file their lawsuit in state court. This process is explained in detail on the ICRC's basic information page.
Prior to filing a racial discrimination complaint, a potential complainant should take advantage of the abundance of free legal aid on the ICRC's website. The ICRC offers a wealth of free legal help through informative articles and links written in both English and Spanish. It has links to the actual state statute enforced by the ICRC as well as to federal statutes and regulations enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A list of cities in Iowa with their own civil rights agencies is also included; if your city has a local agency, you must file your initial complaint with the local agency. If you would like to work with an attorney, the ICRC website includes links to attorney referral agencies. Attorneys will often offer individuals free legal services during an initial consultation and will provide contingency agreements stating that the attorney will not collect fees unless he or she settles the cases or wins a judgment in your favor.
The Iowa State Bar Association maintains a database of Iowa attorneys at, www.iowafindalawyer.com. This site's information center includes an "Areas of the Law" list to assist visitors with finding the type of attorneys that they are looking for. It also offers free legal assistance with advice to help you deal effectively with your attorney once you found have one. To use the referral service, click on the “Use and FIND-A-LAWYER” service link, then choose the city or county closest to you, and select "Civil Rights and Discrimination" from the "Practice Area" drop down menu. The service will then produce a list of attorneys providing the legal services needed to pursue a racial discrimination claim. Click on each attorney's name to learn more about their education, experience, and the type of legal help they can provide. The listing also includes the attorney's address, phone number, email, and website addresses to use to contact that attorney to inquire about employing his or her legal assistance.
If your income is low, you may be qualified to receive free legal aid from one of Iowa's several legal aid agencies located throughout the state. To access a list of these legal support agencies and their contact information, click on the “Low Income Legal Assistance” link on www.iowafindalawyer.com, and look for the agency closest to your home. Iowa has taken significant steps to prevent or eliminate racial discrimination in its state, and it offers several resources for individuals to learn about racial discrimination and file a complaint.