Overall Objective

The commission's primary responsibility, as set forth by the legislature, is to "receive, investigate, and pass upon complaints alleging unfair or discriminatory practices." With certain exceptions, the amended statute prohibits discrimination -- based upon race, creed, color, national origin, or religion in matters of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The whole idea of the Iowa Civil Rights Act is to ensure that all persons enjoy equal opportunity with everyone else. Consequently, a person should not be denied equal treatment merely because of his race, creed, color, national origin, or religion.

When other relevant considerations are equal or similar, a decision (regarding matters in employment, housing, or public accommodations) must not be based upon a person's race, creed, color, national origin, or religion. In other words, minority status is an illegal criterion under the law.

Formal Complaints and File Matters

As a matter of practice, the compliance activities take one of two forms, either a formal complaint or a file matter. A formal complaint is a notarized, written allegation of a violation of a specific section of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. It is a formal charge which requires that certain procedural steps be followed, including a formal disposition.

On the other hand, the commission has classified as file matters those situations in which the disputes are settled preliminarily without the undertaking of a formal charge or a formal investigation. However, the same confidentiality requirements apply to file matters, as to formal complaints.

A file matter generally arises when the aggrieved party requests the commission's assistance in a matter involving possible discrimination, but chooses at the time not to commence formal proceedings until such time as there appears to be no viable alternative. Many times these file matters can be resolved satisfactorily upon consultation with one or both parties following preliminary investigation of the facts. In other words, the commission as an objective third party acts unofficially as a mediator. Of course, however, if such efforts prove unsuccessful, a formal complaint can follow (if the aggrieved party so chooses).

1 For a complete listing of the commission's powers and duties plus the specific definition of discriminatory practices under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, see Appendix A, infra.

Also included in the category of file matters are those situations in which the commission has attempted to resolve disputes which, while they do not come under the commission's specific jurisdiction for law enforcement purposes, nevertheless pose very real problems in the nature of racial, religious, cultural, and intergroup tensions (which the commission is to eliminate as part of its affirmative action responsibilities under the law).

The Formal Complaint Procedure

Deadline for filing a complaint: A complaint must be filed within 90 days of the alleged discriminatory act.

Who may file a complaint: Any individual who feels that he has been the victim of discriminatory practices, as defined in the Iowa Civil Rights Act; the Iowa Civil Rights Commission as a body; any of the individual commissioners; and the state attorney general.

How to file a complaint: Individuals wishing to file a complaint may do so at the commission office; may send a signed complaint through the mail; or may request commission personnel (by mail, telephone or personal contact) to visit them locally to discuss a possible complaint. A supply of commission complaint forms is available from many local human rights commissions, as a means of expediting the complaint filing process.

Initial steps in processing: Following the filing of a formal complaint, the commission sends (by registered mail) a copy of the complaint to the respondent (the party being charged with discriminatory practices), together with a letter stating that the commission will conduct an investigation of the charge. At this time, the commission chairman appoints one of the commissioners as the investigating commissioner to work closely with the compliance
staff members in conducting the investigation and in reaching a preliminary conclusion on the merits of the complaint.

The first step in the investigation is to confer further with the complainant (the party making the charge of discrimination), to determine the exact nature of his charge and to get his side of the story. Then a confidential conference is held with the respondent, to confront him with the particulars of the charge and to get his side of the story.

Many cases are settled at this stage, when one or the other party -through the fact-finding of the commission as an objective third party -- realizes that he is in error. For instance, the complainant might realize that he does not have a legitimate reason for his complaint of discrimination. Or the respondent might realize that he has in fact discriminated (either intentionally or unintentionally), and that in doing so he has acted illegally. But when a preliminary settlement is not forthcoming, the commission then moves to reach a formal disposition.

Based upon the preliminary investigation and the initial contacts with the complainant and the respondent, the investigating commissioner (in conjunction with the compliance director) makes a preliminary finding as to whether there may in fact be substance to the charge of discrimination. The complaint is dismissed at this stage, if the finding is that of "no probable cause" for the charge of discrimination. On the other hand, a finding of "probable cause" means that the evidence suggests the possibility of discrimination, and thus that the commission will continue its investigation.

Finding of "no probable cause": A finding of "no probable cause" is made when the evidence indicates that the complainant's race (or color, creed, national origin, religion) was not the determining consideration in the respondent's action leading to the complaint of discrimination. In other words, the commission investigation has indicated that the complainant did not meet the qualifications or standards which are generally expected of everyone else in similar circumstances.

Several factors which can operate legally to exclude some individuals and not others come to mind. For example, places of public accommodations generally maintain a policy requiring certain standards of conduct and dress by its patrons. These standards are valid; as long as they are applied uniformly to all persons -regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or religion. Of a similar nature, the commission recognizes that many landlords have a policy of not renting to families who have children or pets, or who have a poor credit rating. These standards are considered valid as long as they are applied uniformly, and are not developed specifically as a means of circumventing the fair housing law.

In employment matters involving job entry, the commission likewise recognizes that certain reasonable qualifications or standards must be met in such fundamental things as past work history, employment references, character references, police records, education, applicable work experience, aptitude tests, and preliminary performance tests. In employment matters involving job promotions and job releases, the commission's investigation takes into account such unfavorable aspects as an employee's absenteeism, tardiness, insubordination, lack of cooperation, lack of productiveness, general inability to perform the necessary tasks, and specific inability to assume the necessary responsibility commensurate with the job.

Often there are numerous "gray areas" involved which make it quite difficult to ferret out actual discrimination from legitimate (nondiscriminatory) practices or concerns. In its investigation, the commission looks closely at these problems to determine whether or not discrimination was the underlying consideration or motive.

The best examples of these "gray areas" are in matters of employment where discrimination (either intentional or unintentional) can arise at any of several stages: entry, placement, upgrading, or dismissal. A number of practices have the effect of subterfuging equal employment opportunity at the various stages of employment, including: fluctuating the eligibility standards used in screening minority applicants for jobs, apprenticeship programs, or union membership; overemphasizing any one negative element (however minor or irrelevant it might be) in a minority applicant's otherwise favorable background; relying heavily upon subjective oral interviews to determine eligibility for employment, training programs, or union membership; associating addresses with racial or ethnic ghetto areas, and then stalling minority applicants who have been referred on the telephone by employment services or who have mailed written applications; practicing "tokenism" by taking the position that equal employment obligations are fulfilled with the hiring of one or two members of a minority group; placing overqualified nonwhites in service jobs or other menial tasks; consciously placing nonwhites in positions not requiring the rendering of personal services to the public; tacking unreasonably high and often irrelevant occupational or educational qualifications on a job which could be handled effectively by a lesser qualified person; and utilizing testing procedures and test questions that are culturally- biased and occupationally irrelevant.

Finding of "probable cause": A finding of "probable cause" follows when the preliminary investigation indicates that the complainant met the general qualifications or standards demanded or expected of everyone else -- but that he was excluded nevertheless, apparently because of his race, creed, color, national origin, or religion. These criteria, by Iowa law, are not valid considerations on which to base decisions in matters of employment, housing, or public accommodations.

When the evidence indicates that discrimination probably has occurred, the commission investigates further. When the formal investigation is completed and discrimination is apparent, the commission then seeks the appropriate remedy for the complainant through conciliatory efforts with the respondent. In this regard, voluntary compliance with the law is sought through efforts of conciliation, education, and persuasion. Thorough explanations of the coverage of the law, the law's application to the respondent, the seriousness of the alleged offense, and the breadth of the commission's enforcement powers usually have been sufficient to demonstrate to the respondent that his practices have been illegal and to convince him to take corrective steps.

Attempts are made also during the conciliation stage to allay any fears or misconceptions that the respondent has about practicing equal opportunity. For example, in
employment matters the commission has offered to discuss in depth with management creative ways of obtaining and maintaining an efficient integrated work force. In this connection, suggestions are made as to specific means of recruiting, testing, interviewing, orienting, training, and placing minority applicants in a constructive and fair fashion. The possibility of in-service training on considerations of cultural differences and intergroup sensitivity for the entire work force is also discussed, with suggestions made by the commission as to content and procedure.

Enforcement measures generally are used only as the last resort when all conciliation attempts fail. Then, however, the commission takes the firm stand that the necessary legal steps will be taken to ensure the appropriate remedy at law. Thus, if a complaint cannot be resolved satisfactorily through conciliation then a public hearing on the matter is conducted by the commission.

At the public hearing, the commission has the power to subpoena records and witnesses, as well as to take testimony under oath. The commission makes findings of fact and law at the conclusion of that hearing. If no discrimination is found, the commission may dismiss the complaint. If discrimination is found, the commission may issue a cease-and-desist order to the respondent to halt the discriminatory practice and to take appropriate affirmative action.

If the commission order is not obeyed, the commission may go to district court for a court order enforcing the commission order. That court proceeding involves a trial de novo, where the whole legal process begins anew. The commission's ruling also may be appealed by either party to the district court (where a trial, also de novo, is held). The ultimate court ruling (following possible appeals to higher courts) is final and must be obeyed.

Violators of court orders are in contempt of court. The punishment for contempt in the district court, as delineated in the Iowa Code (Ch. 665), is "a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment." The same punishment in the supreme court applies, except that the limit on the fine is extended to one thousand dollars. Continual violation of a court order makes the violator subject to subsequent citations for contempt until he complies with the court order.

The Compliance Work Load in 1968 2

Totals for 1968

Cases of discrimination, totaling 135, were processed during the reporting year of 1968 (defined earlier in this report as December 1, 1967 to November 30, 1968). During this time, 40 formal complaints and 89 file matters were opened; and 2 formal complaints and 4 file matters which were carryovers from the year 1967 were settled. The jurisdictional breakdown of the 129 cases opened in 1968 follows:

Exhibit A
Boxscore, 1968

  Total Employment Housing Public Accom.
Formal Complaints 40 24 9 7
File Matters 89 30 20 39
TOTAL 129 54 29 46

2 For a table listing by community and by jurisdiction the number of formal complaints and file matters handled by the commission during its first three and one-half years of operation as a composite total and for the year of 1968 only, see Appendix B, infra.

The central issues or goals in the 40 formal complaints filed in 1968 are listed here as an indication of the general types of disputes involved in charges of discrimination. In the area of employment (which involved 24 complaints), these included: entry or initial hiring (7), general underutilization of minority employees (10), placement of a discriminatory job order with the state employment service (1), upgrading (1), demotion (1), and dismissal (4). In the area of housing, the issues in the 9 complaints included: purchase of house (5), rental of apartment (3), and eviction from apartment (1). In the area of public accommodations (which involved 7 complaints), general denial of service or questionable service was at issue at bowling alleys (3), a motel (1), and taverns (2); and from a police department (1).

Of the 40 formal complaints that arose in 1968, a total of 9 was "conciliated" and an equal number was found to be of "no probable cause." Several of the 22 complaints which remained "open" have been conciliated, but will not be closed formally until the respondents demonstrate over a period of time that they "conciliated" in good faith. Moreover, 8 of the formal complaints which are classified as "open" were filed during the month of November just before the close of the reporting period.

Exhibit B

Disposition of Formal Complaints, 1968
  Total Employment Housing Public Accom.
Conciliated 9 4 4 1
No probable cause 9 7 2 0
Open 22 13 3 6
TOTAL 40 24 9 7

The commission called no public hearings during the reporting period. In 1968, a district court ruling reversed a commission order made in a public hearing in 1967. The court held that a trailer court was not a "place of public accommodation" under the Iowa Civil Rights Act; and thus that the commission did not have jurisdiction over a trailer court. The subsequent appeal to the state supreme court was dismissed on a point of procedure, without a ruling on the merits of the question of jurisdiction. Subsequently, the Iowa Fair Housing Act was passed, thus placing trailer courts under the commission's jurisdiction over discrimination in housing definitely --
if not in public accommodations.

Increasing Case Load

The total of 129 cases that arose in 1968 represents a marked increase over the case load for the previous years (as is apparent from the table and graph below).

Exhibit C

Comparative Case Load, 1965-68

  Total Cases Formal Complaints File Matters
Dec. 1967-Nov. 1968 129 40 89
Dec. 1966-Nov. 1967 41 17 24
Dec. 1965-Nov. 1966 38 18 20
(July 1965-Nov.1965)* (10) (2) (8)
TOTAL 218 77 141

*NOTE: The commission was formed July, 1965.

The total of 129 cases opened in the past year was 1.43 times the number of cases (90) that were opened in the first two years and five months combined. Put differently, these 129 cases amounted to triple the number of cases 42) processed during the previous year (which had been the highest total thus far -- previous to 1968). In terms of percentages, the 129 cases in 1968 represented a 207 per cent increase over the total of 42 cases in 1967.

The rising compliance statistics for 1968 are even more significant when it is taken into account that the compliance division did not become fully staffed at three members until July 1, 1968. In the five months since then, a total of 77 cases has been opened. This figure for five months represents an annual pace of 185 (or 85 per cent of the total of 218 for the first three and one-half years combined).

Pending or carryover caseload

At the close of this reporting period (November 30, 1968), there was a total of 23 formal complaints and 42 file matters which were classified as "open". Of this carryover total, current investigations are being conducted regarding 16 of the formal complaints and 8 of the file matters
3. The remaining cases are being held "open" for various reasons, including followup testing to determine that the respondents are abiding by their agreements to maintain nondiscriminatory policies and practices. Moreover, many of the file matters demand continued involvement, with the best example being the commission's efforts regarding the whole panorama of problems of minority inmates in the state correctional institutions.

3 It must be understood that these 24 cases are carryovers, and do not include any of the 13 cases (7 formal complaints and 6 file matters) filed with the commission during December of 1968.

1969 Annual Report Main Page