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Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

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An unfortunate truth is that race still plays a significant role in American society. For many people, discrimination and inequality in the workplace are some of the most glaring examples of how this issue is played out in offices, factories and job sites throughout Iowa and the rest of the United States.

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is a fact-finding law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination law, the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965. The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination based on race in employment as well as the areas of housing, credit, public accommodations, and education.

If you or your loved one has been the victim of racial discrimination in your workplace in the greater Des Moines area, you will want to retain legal counsel. Do not wait to contact Higgins Law Office, PLLC.

Stuart Higgins founded our firm after working for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. He can review your case and discuss all of your legal options as soon as you call (515) 619-9148 or contact us online to receive a free consultation.

What are the laws regarding discrimination in the workplace?

The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 is found in Chapter 216 of the Iowa Code. Iowa Code § 216.6.1.a makes it an unfair or discriminatory practice for any person 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 race.

Under Iowa Code § 216.6.1.b, it is an unfair or discriminatory practice for a labor organization or its employees, agents, or members to refuse to admit to membership any applicant, to expel any member, or to otherwise discriminate against any applicant for membership or any member in the privileges, rights, or benefits of membership because of race.

Iowa Code § 216.6.1.c prohibits employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or their employees, agents, or members from directly or indirectly advertising or in any other manner indicating or publicizing that individuals of any particular race are unwelcome, objectionable, not acceptable, or not solicited for employment or membership unless based on the nature of the occupation.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race and also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race regarding hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.

How can an attorney help?

One of the primary reasons you will want to be working with an attorney in your racial discrimination case is because they will know how to obtain the evidence you need to prove that discrimination occurred. Direct evidence of discrimination is rare, and the burden for proving discrimination was largely established by the framework the Supreme Court of the United States provided with its decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

The Supreme Court of the United States clarified in Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1353 (2015)that the McDonnell Douglas framework was “not intended to be an inflexible rule.” A plaintiff can establish a prima facie case by “showing actions taken by the employer from which one can infer, if such actions remain unexplained, that it is more likely than not that such actions were based on a discriminatory criterion illegal under” Title VII.

After a prima facie case has been established, the burden shifts to the employer to prove a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for their alleged action. The same year the Supreme Court of the United States rendered its decision in Young, it also ruled in Walker v. Johnson, 798 F.3d 1085, 1092 (D.C. Cir. 2015) that a plaintiff could infer that their employer’s stated reasons were simply pretext, and could actually be retaliation or discrimination.

The plaintiff could prove this by showing that the employer treated other employees outside the plaintiff’s protected group better than they were treated. The plaintiff could also show that there were deviations from normal procedures or criteria, or inconsistent or dishonest explanations. Other evidence might be a pattern of poor treatment of other employees in the same protected group, or any other evidence that demonstrates that the employer had a different motive than originally stated.

What are the possible remedies/compensation?

The EEOC states that remedies in racial discrimination cases can include compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages include actual expenses resulting from discrimination like lost wages or medical bills as well as awards for emotional harm like mental anguish or loss of enjoyment of life.

Punitive damages are far more aware and are awarded to punish employers who have committed especially flagrant acts of discrimination. Compensatory damages are also limited based on the size of the employer, such that awards cannot exceed the following maximums:

  • 15-100 employees — $50,000
  • 101-200 employees— $100,000
  • 201-500 employees — $200,000
  • More than 500 employees— $300,000

Importantly, you may be able to file your own lawsuit for which there are no limitations (often referred to as “caps”) on damages awarded. The above-described caps only apply for claims brought under the federal civil rights statutes. The Iowa Civil Rights Act (the state law that prohibits discrimination) does not have caps.

Frequently Asked Questions About Racial Discrimination

Am I required to file with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission before I can file suit in District Court?

Yes. A complaint needs to be filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission before you are allowed to file a lawsuit in court. You can request a “right-to-sue letter” after your complaint has been on file for 60 days.

What is the time limit to file a complaint?

You only have 300 days from the date that you first found out about a discriminatory incident to file with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Your case will also be filed with the EEOC when federal laws apply, and the EEOC also has a time limit of 300 days from the date of the discriminatory incident.

Who might not be eligible to receive a right-to-sue letter?

Administrative Rules provide that right-to-sue letters are not be issued in cases after findings of “no probable cause” have been made by Administrative Law Judges, conciliation agreements were reached between parties, notices of public hearing were served by the Commission, over two years have passed since a case was closed administratively, or a finding of “not timely filed” or “no jurisdiction” was made by Administrative Law Judges.

Working with Clients to End Discrimination in the Workplace

As a firm committed to protecting the rights of Iowa workers, we assist individuals and their families as they fight for equal footing in their careers and within the workplace. Similar to cases involving persons with disabilities or gender discrimination, treating someone unfavorably due to race is illegal according to federal and state laws.

If you believe race is playing into mistreatment, harassment or discrimination in your workplace, consider some of the following criteria and call us at Higgins Law Office, PLLC, to speak with attorney Stuart Higgins about your matter.

  • Policies and practices: Certain workplace policies that apply to everyone can seem benign, but may actually negatively impact people of different races, religions or genders. For example, forbidding certain hairstyles or facial hair may violate the religious freedoms of an individual.
  • Conditions of employment: It is illegal to make race a criterion for employment, advancement, pay increases, training, benefits and a variety of other workplace functions. We can review the circumstances of your case and determine how laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Iowa Civil Rights Act apply.
  • Harassment and discrimination: Verbal, physical, written or other communicated incidents of harassment and abuse based on race are illegal. Although teasing or offhand comments may seem harmless enough, such behaviors straddle a thin line between joking and illegal behavior.

Discreet and Effective Methods for Protecting Your Rights

With experience handling numerous employment law cases, we understand the delicate nature of bringing a lawsuit against a co-worker or your employer. That is why we provide confidential consultations to ensure you can share your concerns in a safe environment. After learning the facts and determining if you have a strong case, we can work together to see that justice is served.

To schedule your free initial case evaluation, call our Des Moines law office and speak to our lawyer at (515) 619-9148. You can also send us an email via our online contact form.