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Frequently Asked Questions About the Complaint Process

Q: How is a complaint filed?
A: A complaint is filed when received in writing by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. To request a complaint form or to inquire about a possible discriminatory action, you may call 515-281-4121 or 800-457-4416 (toll-free in Iowa). There is no charge for filing a complaint, nor a requirement for having an attorney.

Q: Who may file a complaint?
A: Any person who claims to be wronged by a discriminatory or unfair practice, as defined by the Iowa Civil Rights Act. A parent or guardian may file on behalf of a minor.

Q: Is there any time limit to file a complaint?
A: Yes. You have 300 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: What happens after a complaint is filed?
A: A copy of the complaint is sent to the Respondent.  Usually a questionnaire is mailed to both parties.  The Commission staff will review the complaint, the answers to the questionnaires and any other collected information, and will then make a decision as to whether further investigation is warranted.

If the complaint warrants further investigation, the parties are offered an opportunity to resolve the complaint through a voluntary mediation process.  The mediator would be a neutral and impartial Commission staff member who assists the parties to negotiate a no-fault resolution of the dispute.  If an agreement is not reached, the complaint will be put in line for investigation.

When a complaint is assigned to an investigator, an impartial and thorough investigation will be conducted.  All relevant information is considered by the investigator.

Following an investigation, an administrative law judge reviews the collected information and decides whether there is probable cause (discrimination probably occurred) or no probable cause (discrimination probably did not occur.) If the decision is no probable cause, the complaint is dismissed.

If probable cause is found, the Commission attempts to negotiate the best settlement for the complainant and the people of Iowa. The Commission does not become an advocate during the complaint process unless a determination of probable cause has been made; and then is only an advocate on behalf of the probable cause finding.  If negotiation fails, a decision is made whether to proceed to public hearing. With notice of public hearing, the complaint is no longer confidential. After hearing, the Commission makes a final decision whether discrimination occurred.

If the Commission determines the respondent violated the "Iowa Civil Rights Act," the Commission will order appropriate "make whole" relief. Examples of Commission-ordered relief are: back pay and interest; actual expenses; an order to cease discriminatory practices, emotional distress damages, and reasonable attorney's fees.

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.