How to Recognize Employment Discrimination

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


In Iowa, most workers are "at the will" of the boss. This means the boss can fire workers at any time. The only time a worker is not at-will is if they have a contract with the boss. There are only a few protections for workers who are "at-will." These protections keep the boss from firing a worker for an illegal reason.

  • A boss fires an at-will worker for no reason. This is legal.
  • A boss fires an at-will worker for misconduct. This is legal.
  • A boss fires an at-will worker for a reason that doesn't make sense. This is legal.
  • A boss fires an at-will worker because of the worker's religion. This is illegal.

The law says a boss cannot fire a worker because of a bias they have against the worker. Illegal bias is discrimination. Discrimination is illegal when based on:

  • Race or color
  • Gender
  • Religion or creed
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity (Iowa only)
  • Disability
  • Age, or
  • Ethnic or national origin.

If a boss fires a worker for one of these reasons, here are ways the worker can get help:

1) Make a complaint to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC):

If you want to make a complaint, you can file one with the ICRC: 1-800-457-4416 or online at

  • The ICRC investigates discrimination.
  • You have 300 days from the discriminatory act to make a complaint.
  • You need to complete and return papers the ICRC mails out.
  • File a complaint with the local civil rights agency. You can find a list of local agencies on the ICRC website.

2) Make a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).

  • If you want to make a charge, you can file one with the EEOC:The EEOC investigates discrimination on the federal level.
  • You can file a charge of discrimination by going to

3) Talk to a private attorney about a lawsuit against the employer. A private attorney is an attorney who does not work for Iowa Legal Aid.

  • Iowa Legal Aid cannot sue the employer for money.
  • If you cannot find an attorney in your area, ask private attorneys in larger cities about your case.
  • Most private attorneys could give a free first consultation.
  • Some private attorneys may take your case on a contingent fee basis. This means you do not pay money up front.

4) Apply for unemployment benefits. File at your local Iowa Workforce Development Office or online at:

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Nov 29, 2022
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