Thursday, June 12, 2008

You win some, you lose some.

The Iowa Supreme Court decided a case the end of May involving Iowa City that highlights issues when cities decide to enact rules that go beyond the requirements of state law.  

In the case of Baker v. City of Iowa City and Iowa City Human Rights Commission, an out of state person wanted to hire a property manager for his home in Iowa City.  He refused to hire one female candidate because she did not provide references and indicated that she wanted to have her 11 year of son handle the outside maintenance.  The woman brought a claim with the city's human rights commission on the basis of "marital status," which is not a protected class under either federal or state anti-discrimination laws.  

Mr. Baker file a lawsuit objecting that state law does not allow for employment discrimination claims to be brought against employers with fewer than four employees and that the City did not have the authority to bring a claim against him for "marital status" discrimination.  Although Mr. Baker lost at the district court and appellate levels because they found his claims were moot, the Iowa Supreme Court reached the merits of his claims and affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The Court upheld the lower courts in finding that Iowa Code Section 216.19 gives cities the authority to prohibit more types of discrimination than just those identified in the Iowa Civil Rights Act.  However, the Court reversed the case on the issue of whether small employers can be cited for discrimination.  Specifically, the Court held that cities do not have the authority to pursue discrimination claims against employers with fewer than four employers.

The message here for cities is to make sure there is some colorable authority under state law (or home rule authority) before expanding your anti-discrimination procedures beyond the dictates of the Iowa Code.  For more information on this case, see

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