Frequently Used Terminology
Administrative Closure this form of case closure in less formal than the others and has less drastic consequences. If a case is closed by administrative closure:
Adverse Action An adverse action is an unfavorable or harmful action. You might add, that negatively affects your Area relationship. An Area relationship is the relationship between employer and employee, landlord and tenant, business owner and customer, lender and lendee, educational institution and student. Examples are: a hostile work environment created by a harassing co-worker, a termination notice given to you by your boss, an eviction notice given to you by your landlord, a restaurant refusing to serve you, a credit institution denying you a loan, and many, many more.
Aggrieved Person Used only in housing cases. Designates anyone who may have be injured or otherwise "aggrieved" by an alleged discriminatory practice. This is used instead of "complainant" because even people who are not "complainants" may obtain relief in housing discrimination actions.
Area This describes an area of activity or services in which discrimination is prohibited. For example, if a complaint is brought alleging race discrimination in an employment practice we say that this falls within the "area" of employment. The five areas covered by the Iowa Act are employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit.
Basis A personal characteristic which is protected from some forms of discrimination is a "basis". Again if a complaint of employment discrimination is brought alleging that race was the reason for the complainant being terminated then the charge is said be on the "basis" of race. The protected bases of discrimination can vary according the area alleged. The protected bases of discrimination in Iowa law are age [only for employment and credit], sex, race, color, creed, national origin, religion, and disability. Also familial status, the presence of children in the household, is protected in the areas of credit and housing. Marital status is protected in the area of credit. To use the fact that someone opposed a discriminatory practice or that they filed a complaint as a reason to discriminate is discrimination on the basis of "retaliation".
Complainant The person who files a complaint of discrimination. The term "charging party" is used sometimes but it is rare.
Complaint A document filed with the Commission, signed by the person complaining of discrimination, identifying the actions complained of and identifying the people alleged to have committed the discrimination. Also known as the charge.
Damages The loss of monetary benefit, rights, or any offense against a person's dignity.
Direct Action In a housing case the aggrieved person may file suit directly in district court without filing a complaint or obtaining a right-to-sue letter. A direct action must be filed within two years of the discrimination but the period during which a complaint is pending does not count against these two years. In a direct action the plaintiff may obtain actual damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs.
Disability The physical or mental condition of a person which constitutes a substantial handicap.
Discrimination A showing of partiality or prejudice in treatment; action or policies directed against people belonging to a protected basis.
Doer The particular individual who did the act or acts which are alleged to constitute discrimination. The doer is not always the Respondent. For example, the company may be the named respondent but the supervisor would be the doer. Where the action is the result of a deliberate decision then the doer may also be known as the "decision maker".
Incident The act, action or inaction which Complainant alleges is discriminatory. (Examples: termination, reprimand, suspension, layoff, demotion, failure to rent, and many others.)
No Jurisdiction After a facial review of the charge if it appears that the allegations do not fall within the jurisdiction of the commission the case is closed as having "no jurisdiction". A special "NJ" number rather than a "CP" number is assigned to the case.
No Probable Cause A finding by the agency after an investigation that there is no probable cause to support the allegations. In every case but housing this means that the complainant may not obtain a right to sue letter. In housing, the complainant maintains the right to seek individual relief on a direct action in district court.
Not Timely This typically occurs after the so-called "jurisdictional review". If a facial review shows that the charge is past the 180 day filing period then the case as closed as "not timely". This originally was a "no jurisdiction" closure but, of course, untimeliness is not a jurisdictional defect. After an "NT" closure the case is given a special "NT" number rather than a "CP" number.
Probable Cause A finding by the agency after an investigation that there is probable cause to support the allegations. In a housing case this confers upon the parties the right to elect to have the case proceed in court rather than before the agency. Also in a housing case the probable cause finding guarantees the complainant a hearing or trial. In housing it is a decision by the agency to litigate. In all other cases, a probable cause finding does not guarantee a hearing. Instead in non-housing cases a "probable cause" finding allows the case to undergo conciliation and consideration for public hearing. Upon a finding of probable cause the agency staff, other than the administrative law judge, now no longer need maintain neutrality but instead may act in more of an advocacy role in support of the complaint.
Protected Characteristics The same as basis.
Questionnaire This is a set of questions sent out in all cases to both the complainant and respondent. The questions are tailored to some degree by using a mail merge program and plugging in standard questions depending on several factors. The information from the questionnaire is used to make a screening decision in all cases except housing. The questionnaire used in housing is, on average, much shorter than in other cases. This reflects that the allegations typically made in housing cases are much less factually varied than in, say, employment discrimination. The housing questionnaire is used primarily to gather background information which the investigator can use in planning.
Respondent The person against whom a complaint of discrimination has been filed.
Right to sue letter A "right-to-sue" letter is basically a license issued by the agency authorizing the complainant to bring suit in court within 90 days of the issuance of the right to sue letter. Employment practitioners take note: Unlike the EEOC right to sue the Iowa right-to-sue triggers the 90 period upon mailing - not upon receipt. There is no right-to-sue necessary in housing cases. In housing cases a complainant may file a direct action at any time.
Screening This is the process where the commission staff reviews collected preliminary information to determine whether the case warrants an investigation. If a case is "screened in" then it is assigned to be investigated. If it is "screened out" then it is closed by an administrative closure.