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EEO - Discrimination: Iowa

EEO - Discrimination requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Authors: Stuart R. Buttrick, Susan W. Kline and Lindsey M. Hogan, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP


Discrimination Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965

The ICRA prohibits discrimination in employment against employees and job applicants. Employers may not discriminate against an individual based on that individual's:

  • Age;
  • Race;
  • Creed;
  • Color;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity;
  • National origin;
  • Religion; or
  • Disability.

Covered Employers

The ICRA applies to employers with four or more employees.

The ICRA does not apply to:

  • Any employer who regularly employs less than four employees (not including family members);
  • Any employee who works within an employer's home if the employer or members of the employer's family reside at the home during employment;
  • Employers who employ individuals to render personal services to the employer or members of the employer's family;
  • Most religious institutions whose qualifications are related to bona fide religious purposes.
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+Iowa Code § 216.6.

Prohibited Activities and Defenses

It is a discriminatory practice for an employer to refuse to hire, accept, register, classify or refer for employment, to discharge any employee or to otherwise discriminate in employment against any applicant for employment or any employee because of the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability of such applicant or employee, unless based upon the nature of the occupation, which is known as a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). +Iowa Code §§ 216.1 et seq.; See Iowa Dept. of Social Services, Iowa Men's Reformatory v. Iowa Merit Employment Dept., +261 N.W.2d 161 (Iowa 1977); Thus, a BFOQ is a defense to a claim of discrimination.


Additionally, employees can sue an employer for a supervisor's discriminatory conduct. Further supervisors, in their individual capacities, may be liable to employees and former employees for discriminatory conduct. See Farmland Foods Inc. v. Dubuque Human Rights Com'n, +672 N.W.2d 733 (Iowa 2003); Vivian v. Madison, +601 N.W.2d 872 (Iowa 1999).

Protected Classes

The following are considered protected classes under Iowa antidiscrimination law:

  • Age;
  • Race;
  • Creed;
  • Color;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity;
  • National origin;
  • Religion; and
  • Disability.

+Iowa Code §§ 216.1 et seq.; +Iowa Code § 216.6A; +Iowa Code §§ 216.13 et seq., +Iowa Code § 729.4; +161 IAC 8.1 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.15 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.26 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.46 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.57 (216).

Age Discrimination

The law protects individuals over the age of 18 from discrimination. Therefore, an individual may be able to bring a claim of reverse age discrimination. There are circumstances when employees are allowed to discriminate based on age without violating the law. Employers may participate in age discrimination when the discrimination is:

  • Against minors under 18 years of age who are not emancipated;
  • Conducted by a state or federal program and specifically targeted towards a particular age; or
  • Part of a bona fide apprenticeship employment program and the employee is over 45 years of age.

+Iowa Code §§ 216.2; +Iowa Code § 216.6; +Iowa Code § 216.11; +Iowa Code §§ 216.13; +161 IAC 8.15 (216) et seq.

Religious Discrimination

The ICRA does not apply to any religious institutions whose employment qualifications are related to bona fide religious purposes. +Iowa Code § 216.6.

Disability Discrimination

In order for a condition to be considered a disability under the ICRA, the disability must:

  • Be an impairment;
  • That substantial limits, or is perceived as substantially limiting;
  • A major life activity.

Major life activities include activities such as walking, talking and learning. Iowa analyzes disability under the ICRA similarly as claims brought under the ADA.

+Iowa Code §§ 216.1 et seq.; +Iowa Code § 216.11; +Iowa Code § 216.14; +Iowa Code §§ 216.15B et seq.; +Iowa Code § 216.17; +Iowa Code §§ 216.18 et seq.; Iowa Admin. Code 4.1 et seq.; +161 IAC 1.1 et seq.; +161 IAC 8.26 et seq.; See Libel v. Adventure Lands of Am., Inc., +482 F.3d 1028 (8th Cir. 2007).

Accommodations Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and ADA

Like the ADA, the ICRA does not require employers to change the nature of a job to accommodate a disabled employee. Under the ICRA, employers must make a reasonable accommodation "only if it does not substantially impinge on the rights of other employees or incur more than de minimis costs to the employer." See Schwarz v. Nw. Iowa Cmty. Coll., +881 F. Supp. 1323 (N.D. Iowa 1995) (citations omitted) (applying Iowa law).

HIV and AIDS as Disabilities

The ICRA specifically includes HIV and AIDS as a disability. Unless there is a significant risk of transmission of HIV to another person in a specific occupation, Iowa law prohibits employers requiring applicants be tested for HIV as a condition of employment. +Iowa Code § 216.2; +Iowa Code §216.6.

Sex Discrimination

Iowa law prohibits discrimination based on sex. +Iowa Code § 216.2; +Iowa Code §216.6; +Iowa Code §216.11; +Iowa Code §729.4; +161 IAC 8.1 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.46 (216) et seq.; +161 IAC 8.57 (216).

Pregnancy Protections

In addition to federal protections, including those under the FMLA, pregnant mothers are guaranteed up to eight weeks of leave. Employers may not discriminate against pregnant women, solely because of their pregnancy. However, the employee must provide the employer with timely notice of the period of leave requested. The employer may require the employee to certify medically that she is unable to perform her employment duties. +161 IAC 8.54 (216); +161 IAC 8.55 (216).

National Origin

In addition to the ICRA's prohibition against discrimination based on national origin, with respect to employers with 100 or more employees, if more than 10 percent of the employer's workforce is non-English speaking, and those employees speak the same language, the employer must provide an interpreter during any shift the employees are working. Non-English speaking employees are those who are unable to read, write or speak in English to the extent necessary to understand their daily job duties. If a Spanish-speaking interpreter is needed, the employer shall select an interpreter from a list of interpreters developed by the department of workforce development, drawn from the commission of Latino affairs' statewide list of interpreters qualified to serve Iowa courts and administrative agencies. A person employed by the employer whose primary responsibility is to serve as a referral agent to community services. +Iowa Code § 91E.2.

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

The ICRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this does not apply to any bona fide religious institutions with respect to any employment qualifications based on religion, sexual orientation or gender identity when the qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose. +Iowa Code § 216.6.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. See Varnum v. Brien, +763 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 2009).

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment: (1) requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex; and (2) requires a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state. . See Obergefell v. Hodges, +2015 U.S. LEXIS 4250 (U.S. June 26, 2015). Even though gender identity and sexual orientation are not explicitly recognized as protected classes under federal law, in light of this ruling it is best practice for an employer to review and revise its discrimination policies and provide equal treatment to individuals in same-sex marriages with regard to leave, benefits, compensation and other terms of employment.

Genetic Testing

Iowa law provides employees with protection against genetic testing. The law with regard to genetic testing applies to all employers. No employer, regardless of size, may:

  • Solicit;
  • Require; or
  • Administer

a genetic test as a condition of employment or preemployment. Additionally, no employer may use a genetic test to affect the:

  • Terms;
  • Conditions; or
  • Privileges of employment.

Employers may not retaliate against employees for filing complaints or testifying in actions alleging that an employer violated Iowa's genetic testing law. Genetic testing is permitted when an employee:

  • Requests a genetic test; and
  • Provides written and informed consent to taking a genetic test

for any of the following purposes:

  • Investigating a workers' compensation claim; or
  • Determining the employee's susceptibility or level of exposure to potentially toxic chemicals or potentially toxic substances in the workplace.

If an employee does consent to the genetic test, the employer may not:

  • Terminate the employee; or
  • Take any other action that adversely affects any term, condition or privilege of the employee's employment as a result of the genetic test. +Iowa Code § 729.6.

Role of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is a "neutral, fact-finding law enforcement agency that enforces the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 (ICRA)." The Commission does not provide legal representation. The state governor appoints members to the Commission. After being confirmed by the senate, the members serve four-year staggered terms. No more than four members of the Commission may belong to the same political party.

The Commission's powers and duties include:

  • Investigating, mediating and determining the merits of complaints of discriminatory practices;
  • Investigating the existence, character and extent of discrimination in employment, apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training programs; and
  • Conducting hearings based on employees' complaints of discrimination against employers.
    Additionally, the Commission may require special posting as a remedial action for unlawful discriminatory practices.

+Iowa Code §§ 216.1 et seq.

Employees alleging discrimination must file their complaint within 300 days after the last act of discrimination. +161 IAC 3.3 (216).

Posting Requirements

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission encourages every Iowa employer to post the Iowa Equal Opportunity is the Law Poster in a conspicuous manner, in a place accessible to employees. Employers may be required by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to post this information to remedy an unlawful employment practice.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Although no ICRA statute specifically addresses how long employers should maintain employee's records, employers should maintain potential employee and current employee records. Potential employees alleging discrimination must bring their claims within 300 days after the alleged incident of discrimination. +161 IAC 3.3 (216). For state wage and hour purposes, records must be kept for three years. +Iowa Code § 91A.6. Thus, employers should maintain applicant records for approximately a year and current employee records for three years.

Leave for Military Servicepersons

In addition to USERRA, Iowa laws provide protection for servicepersons. Employers "shall not discriminate against any officer or enlisted person of the national guard or organized reserves of the armed forces of the United States or any member of the civil air patrol because of that membership." Additionally, "upon completion of the duty or service, the employer shall restore the person to the position held prior to the leave of absence or employ the person in a position of like seniority, status, and pay."

Employees must provide evidence to their employer of satisfactory completion of duty and/or service and must demonstrate that they are still qualified to perform the job they held prior to taking leave. +Iowa Code § 29A.43.

Veterans Preference

A private employer may grant preference in hiring and promotion to veterans and their spouses or surviving spouse under certain circumstances without running afoul of any state or local laws regarding equal employment opportunity. +Iowa Code § 35.3.See Recruiting: Iowa. An employer should be careful in applying any veterans preference policy that the policy does not have an adverse impact on any other protected class.

Equal Pay

Under the Iowa Civil Rights Law, it is a discriminatory practice for an employer of 4 or more employees to discriminate against an employee based on age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability by paying wages to such employee at a rate less than the rate paid to other employees who are employed within the same establishment for equal work on jobs, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions. . A pay differential may be permissible if made pursuant to a seniority system, merit system or a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production, or any other factor other than the protected characteristic. An employer may not remedy the discrepancy in pay between or among similarly situated employees by reducing the wage rate of any employee. +Iowa Code § 216.6A; +161 IAC 2.1 (216); +161 IAC 8.51 (216); +161 IAC 8.53 (216) et seq.

Lactation/Breastfeeding Protections and Accommodations

A woman may breastfeed her child in any public place where she is otherwise authorized. +Iowa Code § 135.30A.

Future Developments

There are no developments to report at this time. Continue to check XpertHR regularly for the latest information on this and other topics.

Additional Resources

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination

Iowa Civil Rights Commission