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!

Equal Pay for Equal Work: How our clients' fight to be paid what they were owed helped all women in the battle to close the gender pay gap

Cedar Rapids Employment Discrimination Attorney 

It was 2011 when I first met the three women who I would end up representing for nearly six years. These women came to me after they learned that they were being paid substantially less than the men who were performing the same job at a large furniture manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. All three women were managers working in a male dominated workplace. They were like a lot of women I know—smart, hard-working and dedicated employees. Still, they were being paid less than men for doing the same work. 

We brought claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. In 2015, before the trial, the case went to the Iowa Supreme Court to answer a certified question about the time period for recovering damages under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 

We held a jury trial in Davenport, Iowa, in the summer of 2015. The jury was made up of both men and women, and the jury found in favor of our clients for all of the equal pay claims. The jury also found that the employer's conduct was willful and awarded punitive damages. Throughout discovery in the case, we learned that all of the women managers at the manufacturing plant were being paid less than men performing the same work and we were able to present that evidence to the jury. 

The employer then appealed the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 3, 2017, the 8th Circuit ruled in favor of our clients. The ruling can be found here. The Court held that the employer had failed to show that economic conditions were the reason for the pay difference. The Court also held that evidence of the other women managers who were being paid less was admissible. As discussed by Bloomberg in an article discussing the ruling, the Court also held that Department of Labor audit results were not admissible. We believe these victories will help women employees in future cases to successfully prove their claims of wage discrimination.

Throughout the six years that we worked on this case, my clients stood strong in their belief that they and all women should be paid equally. They brought the same level of dedication to this case that had allowed them to advance to management in a male-dominated field. This case proves that we really can change the workplace for the better—one case at a time. 

UBER Sexual Harassment Allegations are a Wake-Up Call for the Tech Industry

The assertion by a former Uber employee that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor and then ignored by the human resources department has brought much-needed attention to a continuing problem in the tech industry - sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.

sexual harassment attorney 

On February 19, Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber published a blog recounting her experience at Uber, including being sexually propositioned by her boss. While this is certainly a disturbing set  of facts, perhaps more troubling is Ms. Fowler's description of what happened when she took her complaint to the human resources department. Ms. Fowler was advised that, while she clearly had been the victim of sexual harassment, her boss would only be given a warning despite multiple complaints from different women, because he was "a high performer." She was also advised that she (and not the harasser) could change jobs or alternatively that she would need to learn to deal with the harassment and the likelihood that she would be retaliated against for complaining.  

Ms. Fowler's now widely read post has resulted in numerous women working in the tech community sharing their own similar experiences. The LA Times reported that a 2015 survey had found that 60% of women in the tech industry have experienced unwanted sexual advances from a colleague and that a 2008 study found that 50% of women working in the tech industry will leave an employer at some point in their career because of a hostile work environment. 

Many tech companies hold themselves out to be very employee focused and so it is particularly disappointing that sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are pervasive among tech-based employers. Equally as disappointing is the practice of human resources departments turning a blind eye to complaints about employees if they are high performing. 

Ms. Fowler's blog has raised awareness at Uber, including prompting an independent investigation that will be conducted by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. Ms. Fowler's story also highlights why so many victims of sexual harassment remain silent. While sexual harassment is clearly illegal, some HR departments punish the victim instead of the perpetrator.

It is important for women to know that Title VII and most state civil rights acts, including the Iowa Civil Rights Act, prohibit conduct like Uber's. Complaints of sexual harassment must be adequately investigated when reported and retaliation against an employee who makes a complaint is explicitly prohibited.  Women who are being sexually harassed or who have suffered retaliation as a result of making a complaint about sexual harassment and are concerned about making a complaint should contact an employment lawyer to discuss their options.