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Frequently Asked Questions
Questions and Answers

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General Questions

Q: What is discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: Discrimination is the unfair treatment of an individual because of a personal characteristic as described in the Act.

Q: What areas are covered under the Iowa Civil Rights Act for discrimination?
A: The Act covers discrimination in Employment, Housing, Public Accommodations, Credit, and Education.

Q: What personal traits or characteristics are protected from discrimination?
A: The following personal characteristics are protected in all five areas: race, color, creed, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and mental disability. Age is protected in employment, and credit. Familial status is protected in housing and credit. Marital status is protected in credit. There is an additional characteristic, retaliation, which is protected in all five areas. Pregnancy is covered in all five areas.

Q: Is there any time limit to file a complaint?
A: Yes. You have 180 days from the date that you first found out about the discriminatory incident to file with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Your case will also be filed with EEOC or HUD, if these federal laws apply to your case. EEOC has a time limit of 300 days from the date of the discriminatory incident; HUD has a one-year time limit from the date of the discriminatory incident. In housing only, you can directly file in court with an attorney; the time limit to file directly in court is two years from the date that you first found out about the discriminatory incident.

Q: I already have an attorney. Do I need to file with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in order to bring suit in District Court?
A: Yes. For all areas, except Housing, you must first file with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. After leaving your complaint on file for 60 days, you may request a "right-to-sue letter" and take your case directly to court.

Q: Is there ever a time when I would not be eligible to receive a "right-to-sue" letter in a case which I have filed?
A: Yes. The Administrative Rules provide that a right-to-sue will not be issued in any of the following situations:
  • After a finding of "no probable cause" has been made by the Administrative Law Judge.
  • After a conciliation agreement has been reached between the parties.
  • After a notice of public hearing has been served by the Commission.
  • More than two years have passed since a case has been closed administratively.
  • A finding of "not timely filed" or "no jurisdiction" has been made by the Administrative Law Judge.

Employment Questions

Q: I have a small company. Is it subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965?
A: In the area of Employment, if you have 4 or more employees, your business comes under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Q: What disabilities are covered by the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: A disability is covered if it meets all three of the following:
  1. an impairment
  2. which substantially limits, or is perceived as substantially limiting
  3. a major life activity (such as walking, talking, learning, etc.)

Q: I feel I need an accommodation to continue my employment. What should I do?
A: If you need an accommodation, you may make that request of your employer to provide it. It is best to put your request in writing.

Q: Are there some cases where an employer would not have to provide an accommodation?
A: Yes. If the accommodation would be an "undue hardship" on the company. There are many factors which may contribute to the determination of whether an accommodation presents an "undue hardship" on a company.

Q: Is pregnancy covered under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: Yes. Pregnancy is considered a temporary disability. Pregnant employees are entitled to the same benefits as other temporarily disabled employees. The Iowa Civil Rights Act requires that employers provide up to eight weeks of leave for their employees who are disabled by their pregnancy. See Iowa Code 216.6(2).

Q: What is harassment?
A: Harassing conduct is a form of discrimination. Harassment is behavior which has the effect of humiliating, intimidating, or coercing someone through personal attack. It is behavior that will make someone uncomfortable or embarrassed, and cause emotional distress. It frequently occurs when one person wants to exert power or control over another person.

Q: What is the definition of harassing conduct?
A: There are two types of harassing conduct. The first type is "environmental" or "hostile environment". The general definition of hostile environment is as follows: unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic which creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

The second type of harassing conduct is based on sex. It is called "quid pro quo" which means "this for that". The definition for quid pro quo harassment is as follows: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct where
  • submission to such conduct is made an implicit or explicit condition of an individual's employment, housing, public accommodations, etc., or
  • submission or rejection of such conduct affects the employment/housing/public accommodations opportunities.

Q: May individuals be liable as well as companies for harassing conduct?
A: Individuals may be named in a complaint and held liable for their conduct which falls outside the bounds of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Businesses may be liable for the acts of their employees which fall outside the Iowa Civil Rights Act under certain circumstances.

Q: How can my business avoid liability for discrimination and/or harassing conduct?
A: (1) Have an anti-discrimination/harassment policy which includes a reasonable method of lodging complaints. (2) Make sure that all your employees are acquainted with the policy and procedure for lodging complaints. (3) Take any complaints which are lodged within the company seriously. (4) Appropriately enforce the policy. (5) Provide training for all employees about harassing conduct and discrimination.

Q: What is constructive discharge?
A: Constructive discharge occurs when someone quits their job because the work situation got so bad (intolerable) that he/she had to leave.

Q: People quit their jobs all the time because they don't like them. Does that mean that companies are breaking the law?
A: In order for a constructive discharge to be unlawful under civil rights law, the work environment must be intolerable because of unlawful basis discrimination. Many people hate their jobs because they have a bad boss, but those people are not justified in quitting unless:
  1. they are a victim of unlawful basis discrimination,
  2. they are a victim of unlawful harassment, or,
  3. the work environment is "poisoned" by other discrimination where the person wanting to quit is not the direct victim.
Constructive discharge claims are often linked with a harassment claim. Constructive discharge always will have a preceding claim of some sort of discrimination.

Q: What is unlawful retaliation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act?
A: Retaliation occurs when an employee
  1. participates in a civil rights investigation, either by filing a complaint or by giving information as a witness,
  2. opposes an unlawful discriminatory act, or,
  3. obeys the Iowa Civil Rights Act,
and the employer then adversely affects the employee's work relationship (such as, termination, demotion, or other conduct negatively impacting the employee's work relationship.)

Housing Questions

Q: I would like to limit the people in my apartment to two adults and two children. Is there a problem with this?
A: Yes. The general guideline is [no more restrictive than] two persons per average-sized bedroom. You cannot specify the sex or age of these persons. In a two bedroom apartment, the tenants could be four adults, two adults and two children, or one adult and three children. In a three bedroom apartment, the occupancy standard would be six persons.

Q: I have always had older persons renting my apartments. Why can't I keep it that way? It would be very upsetting to my current tenants to have children in the building.
A: You cannot rent just to older persons unless you meet the qualifications for being designated as housing for older persons. You cannot choose particular tenants based on the preferences of your current tenants if those preferences are based on any of the protected personal characteristics.

Q: There is a woman who wants to rent my house. I'm afraid she won't be able to maintain the yard and make repairs. Do I have to rent to her?
A: If she is an otherwise qualified tenant, you cannot refuse to rent to her because of her sex. Many women are fully capable of maintaining a property, or they may choose to hire someone to do it for them. You can always check references, as long as you are consistent and check both women's and men's references.

Q: I recently painted my apartments. Must I rent to people in wheelchairs who may bump into and mark the walls?
A: Yes. You cannot deny housing to qualified persons with disabilities. If there is damage that would be considered more than normal wear and tear, you may recover the repair costs through the damage deposit.

Q: Can I refuse to rent to couples living together who are not married?
A: State and Federal laws do not include marital status as a protected personal characteristic, although some city ordinances do. Keep in mind that a legal marriage does not assure a stable relationship or desirable tenancy. It's better to check references of each adult applicant and rent to the applicants who are most qualified.

Q: Can I refuse to rent to people whose sexual orientation offends me?
A: State and Federal laws do not include sexual orientation as a protected personal characteristic, although some city ordinances do.

Q: The apartments on the upper floors of my building have balconies. I don't think they're a safe place for children to play. Can I refuse to rent these apartments to families with young children?
A: No. It is up to the parent who will be renting the apartment to decide if it is a suitable place for their family.

Q: Can I set a dollar amount of income required of my applicants?
A: Yes, you may establish a reasonable minimum income criteria necessary for the applicant to afford the unit. This standard should be applied uniformly to all applicants. Keep in mind that the income need not come from employment. Some persons have sufficient verifiable income from other sources that would enable them to qualify.

Q: A young man came to look at an apartment, and he did not appear to be well. I'm afraid he has AIDS. Do I have to rent to him?
A: Yes. If he is otherwise qualified, you cannot refuse to rent to him because you believe he might have AIDS. A person with AIDS, or who is believed to have AIDS, is protected under the law from discrimination on the basis of physical disability. Current medical information is that AIDS is not contagious through casual contact; there is no danger to you or your other tenants by renting to someone with AIDS.

Q: A family with several children came to look at an apartment. The children were noisy and unruly, yelling and running in the hallways, and the parents made no attempts to control the children's behavior. Do I have to rent to this family?
A: No, if you have reason to believe the family would not take care of the property or would not abide by the rules. Checking references may give you some additional information about the past and present behavior of this family. You cannot refuse to rent to a person just because they have children, but you may refuse to rent to a person that you believe will not fulfill tenancy requirements.

Q: My landlord refuses to repair the furnace in the house I rent, and I never know if I will have heat or not. Can I just stop paying rent to force him to make the repairs?
A: This does not come under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, unless the landlord is targeting you in some way because of a protected personal characteristic. This is a situation covered by the Iowa Landlord Tenant Law, which specifies a procedure to follow to require the landlord to make necessary repairs to the property.