Iowa Supreme Court Clears Up Standards for Employment Discrimination Under Iowa Civil Rights Act

Employment Discrimination Lawyer

On June 9, 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an anticipated ruling in the case of Hawkins v. Grinnell Regional Medical Center. For you legal junkies, you can read the opinion here. Gregory Hawkins, who was represented by my friend and fierce advocate for employees, Brooke Timmer, sued his former employer, Grinnell Regional Medical Center, after he was fired following years of dedicated service. Hawkins claimed he was a victim of disability discrimination and retaliation and a jury agreed, awarding Hawkins over $4 million in damages.

Many issues were presented on appeal, but the Iowa Supreme Court focused on just two. Unfortunately, the Court overturned the verdict and sent the case back for a new trial because of certain evidence that was admitted at trial. But in addition to that, the Court addressed the standards of proof that apply in most cases of employment discrimination.

The Court confirmed its long standing, but often challenged, holding that an employee can prove an employer violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act by showing that a discriminatory or retaliatory motive was a motivating factor or played a part in the employer’s action taken against the employee. Discrimination does not need to be the only reason for the employer’s action for it to violate the ICRA, it just needs to be one of the reasons. This reasoning has always made perfect sense to me because I think it is pretty clear that the legislature intended to prohibit racism, sexism, retaliation, etc. in its entirety and did not intend to allow employers to be just a little racist or a little sexist.

The Court also eliminated the application of the federal rules for proving that an employer discriminated against an employee, which were often confusing for juries . . . and judges and attorneys. Finally, the Court announced that employers are entitled to a “same decision” defense. This means that if an employee proves that discrimination or retaliation was a motivating factor or played a part in the employer’s decision, the employer is liable under the ICRA unless the employer proves that it would have made the same decision even without the discriminatory or retaliatory motive.

As an employment discrimination lawyer, I am looking forward to advocating for my clients under these clearer standards.

Iowa at the forefront of LGBTQ civil rights? How this little state in the middle of the country has led the way towards equality.

June is LGBTQ Pride Month!

Iowa Employment Law

Most Iowans know that Iowa was one of the earliest states to legalize gay marriage. 2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v. Brien decision in which the Court ruled that Iowa’s law prohibiting same sex couples from getting a marriage license violated the Iowa Constitution. This ruling made Iowa only the 3rd state in the nation to establish marriage equality and was six years before the US Supreme Court reached the same conclusion.

But a lesser known fact is that Iowa was also at the forefront of protecting the LGBTQ community from other types of discrimination. In 2007, the Iowa legislature amended the Iowa Civil Rights Act to extend its prohibition against discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Iowa Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, credit, housing and education. Iowa was the 19th state to include civil rights protections for gay people and only the 10th state to include protections for transgender people.

At Ann Brown Legal we are proud of Iowa’s history in standing up for the rights of LGBTQ individuals. All people deserve the right to work and support themselves and their families free from discrimination.

If you believe your employer (or a potential employer) has discriminated against you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, please call us to discuss your rights at (319) 826-2250.

Happy Pride Month to all!

How Do I Know If I'm Getting Paid Fairly?

Iowa Employment Law

Whether you have recently been offered a job, given a raise, or are analyzing your wages compared to others, you may be wondering what a fair wage is for your position and the work you do. A number of factors decide what makes pay fair – including the work done, experience levels, etc. Certain legal criteria govern what employers must pay their employees.

Federal and State Standards

The federal government sets a minimum wage requirement, with certain exceptions for tipped employees and other types of work. The federal government also maintains provisions for overtime pay requirements for certain employees and situations. In addition, each state may set its own minimum wage and overtime laws.

Wage Theft

If your employer has refused to pay you for all the wages you’ve earned, this is called wage theft. This can occur when an employer does not pay you for activities and time that are integral to your work. These activities may include trainings, travel, overtime, etc. The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act allows employees to collect back pay owed to them, and does not allow an employer to withhold such pay if they have a claim against that employee.

Fair Pay Among Employees

In Iowa, it is illegal for an employer to pay an employee less based on gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other specific factors. Many employers may not be transparent in sharing what other employees are making at your job. However, if you learn that other employees doing the same work you are doing, with commensurate experience, are being paid more, you may have a case and should contact a workplace discrimination lawyer.

Gender Pay Gap

A particularly common issue in fair pay is gender. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits discrimination in pay based on gender. Iowa employment law includes Iowa’s Equal Pay Act of 2009, which requires that women be paid the same as men, doing the same work. However, here in Iowa, women are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid. While this is illegal, it often goes unnoticed or accepted, due to lack of transparency.

Benefits and Accruals

When considering your wages, don’t stop at the base pay, whether hourly or salary. Factor in your benefits, health insurance, retirement accounts, leave and sick time, stock options, and other accruals. If you are unsure whether you are being offered fair compensation and benefits, you should contact an attorney experienced with Iowa employment law.

Workplace discrimination lawyers are familiar with both employment law and recent cases. They can spot unfair wage practices and help you receive the compensation your work deserves. If you feel you have been paid unfairly, please contact us at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

How The #MeToo Movement Reinforces The Importance of Civil Justice for Victims of Sexual Assault and Harassment at Work

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On November 27, 2018, more than 20 million people watched the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Dr. Blasey-Ford offered compelling and emotional testimony detailing a sexual assault she suffered at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh when the two were in high school. The nation has watched wondering whether a man accused of sexual assault will be put in one of the most powerful positions in the country.

The Nation has also watched as Dr. Blasey-Ford, who courageously came forward with her story, has been challenged, disbelieved and even mocked. But Dr. Blasey-Ford has also inspired many victims to come forward with their stories and has brought much needed attention to the treatment of victims of sexual assault and harassment. For too long, victims are subjected to ridicule instead of respect when they come forward, while perpetrators have suffered little to no consequences. Rape is the most under reported crime in this country, with 63% of sexual assaults going unreported. The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to sexual assault and harassment but it remains to be seen if it will lead to lasting change.

Sexual assault and harassment in the workplace are often about power and for that reason, sexual harassment lawyers know that too often these acts go unreported. One in five women will be raped in their lifetime and 8 percent of those rapes will occur at work. And while there are a long list of reasons that prevent victims from coming forward, the law protects victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Both the Iowa Civil Rights Act and Title VII (the Federal Civil Rights Act) have anti-retaliation provisions that make it illegal to retaliate against employees who make complaints about sexual harassment and sexual assault. An employer cannot demote (or refuse to promote), fire or reduce the pay or responsibilities of an employee because the employee complained about sexual harassment and assault.

In addition to the employment laws already in place that protect victims who report, both the Senate and the House have proposed legislation aimed at further combating workplace sexual harassment and assault. The Empower Act, H.R. 6406, is described as an Act “to deter, prevent, reduce, and respond to harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and harassment.” The Act is sponsored in the Senate and in the house by both Republican and Democratic women legislators. If passed, the Empower Act would prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign non-disparagement or confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment if the agreement would prohibit employees from discussing sexual harassment or assault.

While retaliation has long been illegal, and nearly every employer knows they are not permitted to retaliate, as a sexual harassment attorney, I have represented many clients who have been retaliated against. We have learned from cases like those involving Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein that widespread sexual harassment and assault can go unreported for YEARS because of fear of retaliation.  If you or someone you know has been retaliated against by your employer for reporting sexual harassment or assault or if you are afraid to report sexual harassment or assault in your workplace, you should speak with a sexual harassment attorney.

As a sexual harassment attorney, I find that one of the most powerful things I can do is believe in our clients. We believe victims. Oftentimes in these cases, we will do what an employer failed to do and investigate and substantiate the stories of victims of sexual harassment and assault. This allows us to be their best advocate.

If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed at work or are currently being sexually harassed or assaulted and would like to discuss your options, please call us at (319) 826-2250.

Your Protections in a Right to Work State

Iowa Employment Law

In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which gave states the right to restrict the power of unions within their states. Since then, many states have passed right to work laws. Iowa is currently a “right to work state.” In these states, an employee is not required to join a union nor pay union dues, even when his or her workplace is unionized. There is a lot of controversy surrounding right to work laws because many employees feel these laws are designed to undermine the power of unions and thus the power of employees to collectively negotiate higher pay and better working conditions. While these laws may not benefit employees overall, they generally do protect employees from certain conduct, as set out below.

Your Rights

Right to work laws restrict a company and union from negotiating a contract that requires all employees to join the union and pay dues. This means that an employer cannot discriminate in hiring based on union membership or union dues paid or unpaid. This also means that they cannot prohibit an employee from joining a union. Furthermore, an employer cannot deduct union dues from an employee’s wages against that employee’s will.


The federal Railway Labor Act supersedes state right to work legislation. Railway and airline employees may be required to pay union dues, depending on the bargaining agreements of their employer and the respective union. While railway and airline employees may have to pay union dues, they may not be compelled to participate in meetings or other union events.

Right to Work States

To date, about half the states and territories of the United States, including Iowa, have right to work laws on the books, through legislation or constitutional provision. However, as debates about right to work laws emerge and new laws are passed, these can be influx. If you feel that an employer has been in violation of a right to work law, you should research your own state’s current laws or contact a local employment lawyer.

Background in Iowa

The current law protects an employee’s right to join a union as well as refusal to join and makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee for being a member of a union or alternatively refusing to join a union. It makes any contracts that would restrict employment of those who refuse to join a union unlawful. It also states that union dues cannot be a prerequisite of employment. Finally, it makes deducting union dues from wages, without written consent of the employee, unlawful.

Common Misconceptions

The name “right to work” can be misleading. These laws do not ensure employment for anyone who wants to work. They also do not prohibit employment termination for any particular reason. Rather, they narrowly and specifically protect an employee from being compelled to participate, or not, in a union as a condition of employment.

If you need a lawyer to represent you, please call us for a free consultation at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

How Does The Family Medical Leave Act Protect Me?

Iowa Employment Law

The Family and Medical Leave Act was enacted in 1993 to give eligible employees unpaid, but protected, time off in the event of certain emergencies or other family related matters. The FMLA guarantees that in these circumstances an employee can not be laid off or fired if he or she needs to take this time off.

What Does the Law Provide?

The law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in a 12-month period, but with all eligible benefits, such as health insurance, in place. It also protects an employee from being fired if he or she needs to make use of this time off.

If the family member, or employee, is a member of the U.S. armed services, the protected time off extends to 26 weeks in a 12-month period.

When Can This Leave Be Taken?

In general, FMLA can be taken when you or an immediate family member is facing a serious illness and need care. Immediate family members are defined as parents, children, or spouse. In 2005, the law was extended to include same-sex unions as part of the definition of spouse.

This leave can also be taken at the birth or adoption of a child or the placement of a child into foster care into one’s home.

Who Is Eligible?

The law protects those who work for a private employer with 50 or more employees, within 75 miles of where you work, or those who work for a government employer. The employee also needs to meet certain criteria. For instance, he or she needs to have been employed for the last 12 months (or 12 months in less than 7 years, if seasonal). He or she needs to have worked 1250 hours in 12 months or about 24 hours a week.

What If I’m Not Eligible?

If the specific criteria listed by the Family and Medical Leave Act does not apply to you, you may still be protected by state or local laws, or your employment contract. You can check with your Human Resources department or state labor laws for specific information.

When you need to take leave protected under the FMLA, you should give your employer as much notice and information as you can, to ensure that your rights are protected. However, if you have made your employer aware of your situation and your rights are being compromised, we may be able to help.

 If you need a lawyer to represent you, please call us for a free consultation at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

Iowa's Gender Pay Gap: Why And What To Do About It

Workplace Discrimination Lawyers

Iowa’s gender pay gap is one of the widest in the nation. According to the AAUW, on average, women in Iowa make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That number is well below the national average and places Iowa at number 41 in a ranking of the 50 states and Washington D.C.

Factors At Work

Employers give a lot of reasons for the gender pay gap, but really the gender pay gap is a result of gender discrimination – pure and simple – both historical and current discrimination. Because women have historically been paid less than men they are often willing to accept lower pay than a man would, however courts have made it clear that woman’s willingness to accept a lower pay rate does not make it legal to pay her less for the same work.

This factor is compounded by the fact that many women don’t know they are being paid less than the men they work with. Many employers prohibit employees from sharing their salaries allowing them to keep unequal pay a secret. Although Iowa passed its Equal Pay Act in 2009, and it is one of the strongest Equal Pay Acts in the nation, it requires that employees file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission or file a lawsuit in order to remedy unfair pay. As it stands today, there are no specific laws in Iowa that prevent an employer from requiring his employees to keep their wages a secret from their fellow employees. Workplace discrimination lawyers see firsthand that this lack of transparency may cause female employees to be unaware of discriminatory pay practices happening in their workplace.

What You Can Do

Whether you are a woman in Iowa feeling that pay gap, or anyone anywhere who feels the weight of this discrimination, there are steps you can take to make change.

1)    Advocate for Yourself

Speak with your employer or your fellow employees to find out if your salary or wages is commensurate with your male colleagues. Negotiate your salary, raises, and bonuses with confidence, knowing that the U.S. Equal Pay Act, Title VIII and Iowa’s Equal Pay Act protect women from being paid unfairly. Iowa and federal law also protect you from retaliation from your employer for bringing this up. If you suspect unfair pay practices, here are a few things you should know

2)    Advocate for All

Starting with your own negotiations, continue having this conversation. Speak with other women in your industry or community and encourage them to speak up for themselves. Unequal pay practices occur in every field and women in leadership positions may be at a higher risk of being paid unfairly. If you are in a position to set salaries in your organization, review women’s pay and advocate for equal pay among men and women.

3)    Legislative Change

Educate yourself about local or state laws on the ballot that further protect employees from wage discrimination. Speak with your legislators, state and federal, about laws that encourage transparency and honesty in wage practices. At the federal level, every year, a bill is introduced that would require employer transparency so that people know when they are being paid unfairly, but every year corporate employers oppose the bill and it has never passed.  Contact your representatives and encourage them to support this bill. Iowa could enact a similar law and so you should also contact your state representatives and encourage them to put forth this type of legislation.

4)    Seek Legal Assistance

If you discover that you have been paid less than your male colleagues, we can help. We have experience as workplace discrimination lawyers and have successfully represented women in court who were being paid unfairly.

If you need a lawyer to represent you, please call us for a free consultation at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

How Do I Know If My Employer Is Treating Me Fairly?

Workplace Discrimination Lawyers

Workplace discrimination lawyers represent employees who have been mistreated, paid unequally or discriminated against because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age or religion. Fair treatment in the workplace is not a perk or benefit. In a lot of cases, it’s the law. There are legal ramifications to an employer treating his or her employees unfairly because they have differences. If you are feeling mistreated or wondering if your employer is legally acting fairly, here are a few areas you should consider.

Fair Payment For Work

A lot of workplace issues involve employee wages and benefits. Laws regarding minimum wage, equal pay, overtime payment and more regulate how an employer can pay their employees. Employers who do not comply with these laws may be held liable for wage theft. The Department of Labor outlines many of the federal laws governing fair pay concerns. Iowa also has a specific law addressing wages known as the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act.

Gender Gap

While being treated equally does not always mean being treated the same, it does mean being given the same opportunities with the same intentions. This may look different in specific situations or for specific individuals. However, the general law remains the same: equal pay for equal work. Time and again we see women, doing the same job with the same responsibilities and qualifications as their male counterparts but being paid less. This is illegal and, as workplace discrimination lawyers, we have brought these cases to court and won.

Policies and Outcomes

From hiring to departure, and all the days in between, employers cannot have different rules for different employees based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age or religion. Employers do not have to treat every employee the same and always act fairly towards every employee, but an employer cannot treat an employee different because they are in a “protected class” meaning because of their race, their gender, their age, the sexual orientation or their religion.

Channels to Be Heard

Part of being treated fairly is the opportunity and freedom to speak up when an employee feels uncomfortable, harassed or treated unfairly. Laws that prohibit discrimination also prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee because they make a complaint about discrimination. This includes making a complaint to the employer, making a complaint to the EEOC or the Iowa Civil Rights Commission or filing a lawsuit.


The stories of sexual harassment in the news are shocking for some but for many women across many industries these stories are not news. They are all too aware of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace. While sexual harassment is far too common, it is ILLEGAL.

Every employee deserves to be treated fairly by his or her employer. A workplace should be a place of growth and equality. If you have questions or feel that you are being treated unfairly in your workplace, contact a workplace discrimination lawyer today.  You can call us at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

Working Hard for Their Money: How Iowa Employment Law Protects Employees from Wage Theft

Iowa Employment Law

Iowans are known for their work ethic and so it’s particularly disturbing when an employer doesn’t pay an employee the wages they’ve earned. This is known as wage theft. Iowa employees are protected against wage theft both through a federal law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but also through an Iowa law known as the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act, Iowa Code Chapter 91.A. Unfortunately, a lot of employees don’t know their rights under these employment laws.

The FLSA requires that most employers pay employees minimum wage for hours worked and also requires that employers pay employees one and a half times their regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40. The FLSA also requires that employers count time spent performing certain work as hours worked and prohibits agreements between an employer and an employee to pay the employee less than minimum wage or not to pay the employee overtime owed.

The FLSA requires that employers pay employees for time spent doing things that are “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ work activity. This can include time spent putting on specialized protective equipment and then walking to the employee work station and time spent traveling between worksites. One of the most famous FLSA cases about these issues came out of Iowa—Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo was an Iowa case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. That case was a class action where employees of the Tyson Meat Packing Plant were awarded back pay, including overtime owed, for time they spent “donning and doffing” protective equipment.

In addition to the FLSA, Iowa employees’ right to wages is protected by the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act requires that an employer pay wages due on regular pay days and that an employer pay the employee all wages on the first regular pay day after the employee’s termination of employment. Many employers violate this law by withholding an employee’s last paycheck or by deducting expenses from a paycheck that are not permissible. Iowa law prohibits an employer from withholding wages for the following:

  1. A cash shortage unless there is a written agreement;

  2. Losses of the employer due to customer non-payment, breakage or bad checks;

  3. Lost or stolen property;

  4. Tips/gratuities received by the employee;

  5. Protective equipment; and

  6. Costs of more than $20 for employee relocation expenses.

The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act also prohibits an employer from withholding employee wages because they believe they have a claim against that employee.

Both the FLSA and the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act allow an employee to recover back wages along with liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees and expenses—meaning that if an employer violates one of these laws they wind up paying more than they would if they had simply paid the employee what was owed.

If you have questions about whether your current or former employer has violated employment laws, you should speak with an Iowa employment lawyer to determine if you have a case. Please call us at (319) 826-2250.

Wage Theft - How your employer may be stealing from you without you even knowing.

Iowa Employment Lawyer 

A number of recent class action lawsuits brought by employees against their employers have called attention to the long-time problem of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee all of the wages earned by the employee and can happen in any industry and to all types of employees. Here are a few common types of wage theft to watch out for:

  1. Working off the clock: Some employers may require employees to work before or after their scheduled hours doing things like putting on required protective gear, cleaning up or completing required paperwork, but will only pay the employee for the scheduled shift. 
  2. Failing to pay overtime: The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay non-exempt employees time and a half for hours worked over 40. Some employers will fail to pay the increased rate for overtime or may incorrectly classify employees as exempt in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. 
  3. Failing to pay for travel time: Employers are required to pay employees for certain travel time. However some employers refuse to do so. 
  4. Failing to pay for training time: Employers must pay employees while attending certain training sessions that are required by the employer. 
  5. Withholding pay: Some employers may take impermissible deductions from an employee paycheck or may withhold an employee's last check.

For Iowa workers, there are two laws aimed at protecting employees from wage theft—The Fair Labor Standards Act and The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. Often, claims for wage theft are filed as class action lawsuits on behalf of all employees of an employer who have been a victim of the theft. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a series of cases involving whether employers can include arbitration agreements and class action waiver in their employee agreements. The Court has not yet issued a ruling, but you can read more about the case here

If you believe your employer has committed wage theft and you would like to discuss whether you have a claim against your employer, please call our office at (319) 826-2250