[author: Deborah M. Tharnish]
Changes are afoot at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). Beth Townsend, the new director of the organization, has stated that she is focused on improving overall speed and efficiency. While change is often good, it doesn't always make things easier, especially for employers who are faced with a civil rights complaint amidst the changes.
The ICRC has hired a number of new Civil Rights Specialists, the majority of whom are law school graduates. Civil Rights Specialists screen complaints and responses and make an initial determination of whether the complaint should be administratively closed or investigated. Director Townsend testified that special emphasis is being given to "improving the quality of the analysis of the initial screening decisions by improving the legal analysis and providing more in-depth review of the available information."
Anecdotally, we have noticed that more cases seem to be screened for investigation and the screenings decisions are often lengthier and more detailed. In addition, the degree of evidence required, including affidavits and admissible evidence, appears to be increasing. Overall, even more detailed responses are often resulting in a decision to proceed with further investigation.
The mediation process has also changed. The Commission is currently using volunteer mediators who are experienced attorneys and retired judges. This has taken the place of the in-house mediation program. While mediations used to be held in Des Moines, they are now being held throughout the state.
Director Townsend has announced a goal of eliminating the backlog of cases by the end of FY13 and reducing the average age of the cases to less than 300 days. She has also announced a goal of "improving the number of probable cause findings which has been for years and years abnormally low especially compared with surrounding states." This goal is likely increasing the number of screenings that result in further investigation.
While our current experience is anecdotal only, it indicates that increased care should be given to the initial response to the Commission, including attention to providing specific information in response to the complaint. It is no longer enough to tell the ICRC the truth as you see it--you need to provide e-mails, statistics, memoranda, other examples, and personnel files to demonstrate the basis of your position.