Des Moines Post Office Case Raises Discrimination Issues

VanDerGinst Law - Gavel and booksThis week, a Des Moines woman won more than $380,000 for racial discrimination the occurred while she was a Post Office employee. Sheryl Rogers, who is black, worked for 15 years at the Des Moines Post Office. According to the discrimination lawsuit that she filed and won, she reported the discrimination on more than one occasion and was eventually fired.

The Post Office later offered Ms. Rogers her job back, but only after she had filed the lawsuit. She didn’t take it, her attorney says, because the environment was still a hostile one. The jury found in Ms. Rogers’ favor. They awarded her back wages, plus past and future emotional distress, totaling $382,500. (For the full story, check out this article in the Des Moines Register.)

This brings up an issue that some people are fortunate enough not to think about very often. But when discrimination happens in the workplace–and it does happen, all the time–this is a serious matter. In many cases of discrimination, people realize that they are being treated unfairly, but they may not know that their situation is protected by law.

In both Iowa and Illinois, anti-discrimination law extends beyond the workplace. Discrimination is legally prohibited in these five areas:

  1. Employment
  2. Housing
  3. Credit
  4. Public accommodations
  5. Education

Discrimination is any time you are treated differently for a reason that is not relevant to the situation. But it’s not only racial discrimination from which you are protected by law. Each state has its own guidelines for discrimination law.

In the state of Iowa, it is illegal to discriminate against someone for reasons of:

  • race
  • color
  • creed
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • pregnancy
  • physical disability
  • mental disability
  • retaliation (because of filing a previous discrimination complaint
  • participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint
  • having opposed discriminatory conduct
  • age (in employment and credit)
  • familial status (in housing and credit)
  • marital status (in credit)

In the state of Illinois, these “protected classes” include:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex
  • national origin
  • ancestry
  • citizenship status (with regard to employment)
  • age (40 and over)
  • marital status
  • physical or mental handicap
  • sexual orientation
  • military status or unfavorable discharge from military service
  • arrest record

If you have experienced discrimination, or if you are unsure if your situations constitutes discrimination, either an experienced lawyer or the state agencies in charge of enforcing these laws can answer your questions and help you understand your rights. In Illinois, this agency is the Illinois Department of Human Rights. In Iowa, it is the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. According to law, those who report discrimination are protected from retaliation or unfair treatment as ‘punishment’ for reporting instances of unfair treatment.

You have the right to be treated fairly and evaluated on your merit alone.

You also have the right not to be punished for coming forward about discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws also protect you from such ‘punishment’ or ‘retaliation.’ If it can be shown that you have, like Sheryl Rogers, been discriminated against at work, school or in public, or with regards to credit or housing, you may have the grounds for a lawsuit. As in Ms. Rogers’ case, lost compensation as well as other damages can often be recovered.

By coming down hard on those who continue to act with ignorance and disrespect, juries like this Des Moines jury help protect the rich diversity of individuals who make up our country, allowing each of us to work hard and live well in safe and supportive environments.