Practice Areas

The Iowa Civil Rights Act Undermined by the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act

March 2013

By: Joseph H. Laverty, Esq.

Despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2008 (ADAAA) to greatly expand who would qualify as disabled, the Iowa legislature took no action to adopt those amendments in relation to the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Therefore, it seemed clear that plaintiffs bringing disability discrimination claims solely under the ICRA would still be required to meet a more rigorous standard to prove the existence of a disability. Not so fast.

In Knudsen v. Tiger Tots Community Child Care Center, a split panel of the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that although the Iowa legislature did not take any action to adopt the standards in the ADAAA, claims under the ICRA follow the ADAAA when determining what constitutes a disability. Key to determining that the ADAAA applied to the ICRA was the court's reliance on several prior cases stating that Iowa state courts generally follow federal law when analyzing disability cases under the ICRA. However, that was before the federal law was changed so dramatically.

The opinion is important because it shows the Iowa State Court's desire to read ADAAA standards into an untouched state law. It is unsettling to think that the interpretation of the ICRA, which has not been amended in any way and has its own interpretive history, could change so significantly solely on the basis of amendments made to its federal counterpart. Moreover, we are not the only ones who find this reasoning disturbing. Last year U.S. District Court Judge Gritzner presented a certified question before the Iowa Supreme Court to decide this very issue. The Iowa Supreme Court has yet to rule.

If this opinion is allowed to stand, Congress will essentially be able to override the Iowa legislature by forcing state courts to apply unintended interpretations of state law. It will also serve as the basis of future attempts to ignore key employer favorable differences between the ICRA and other federal discrimination laws. If you have any questions regarding the important nuances between the ICRA and federal discrimination laws, or any other employment law related issues please contact Attorney Joseph H. Laverty in Wessels Sherman's Davenport Iowa office.