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Dindinger v. Allsteel, Inc.

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 6, 2015

ERIN DINDINGER, LISA LORING, and ELIZABETH FREUND, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTEEL, INC. and SCOTT MILLS, Defendants

Page 558

Certified questions of law from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Stephanie M. Rose, United States District Court Judge. A federal district court certified two questions in a suit for wage discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Ann E. Brown-Graff and Brad J. Brady of Brady Preston Brown PC, Cedar Rapids, for plaintiffs.

Frank Harty, Debra Hulett, and Frances M. Haas of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for defendants.

Jill Zwagerman of Newkirk Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, and Melissa C. Hasso of Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm, West Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa Affiliate of the National Employment Lawyers Association.

OPINION

MANSFIELD, Justice.

Page 559

We have been asked to answer two certified questions of Iowa law in an employment discrimination case filed in federal district court. They are:

1. Do Iowa Code section 216.6A, Iowa's equal pay law, and the accompanying remedial language in section 216.15(9)(a)(9), apply to permit a plaintiff to pursue wage discrimination claims under section 216.6A that accrued before April 28, 2009, the date Iowa's General Assembly made these statutes effective, in the absence of express legislative language making these laws retroactive?
2. If a prevailing plaintiff may only recover damages under Iowa Code section 216.6A and the accompanying remedial language in section 216.15(9)(a)(9) prospectively, may the same plaintiff also recover damages for prevailing on a wage discrimination claim under section 216.6, and if so, what types of damages may that plaintiff recover and for what period of time?

For the reasons discussed herein, we answer the questions as follows:

1. No.
2. Yes. Recoverable damages for loss of income are based on discriminatory wage payments that occurred within 300 days before the plaintiff filed a complaint with the civil rights commission.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Plaintiff Erin Dindinger worked for the defendant company, Allsteel, Inc., from December 1999 through May 20, 2011. Plaintiff Lisa Loring has worked at Allsteel since 2005. Defendant Scott Mills was the vice president of operations at Allsteel and the supervisor of Dindinger's direct supervisor during this period. The plaintiffs allege that during their time with the

Page 560

company, Allsteel paid them less than male employees performing similar work.

Dindinger, Loring, and a third plaintiff (Elizabeth Freund) brought suit against Allsteel in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on October 10, 2011, alleging Allsteel had violated the Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (2006). On February 28, 2012, plaintiffs amended their complaint to include claims by Dindinger and Loring that Allsteel had violated Iowa Code section 216.6A, which was enacted in 2009 and expressly prohibits wage discrimination. See 2009 Iowa Acts ch. 96, § 2 (codified at Iowa Code § 216.6A (2011)). The amended complaint also included claims by Dindinger and Loring that Allsteel had violated Federal Title VII and violated the ICRA as it stood before 2009. The amended complaint further recited that Dindinger and Loring had filed employment discrimination complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) on October 12, 2011, as required by Iowa Code section 216.16. See Iowa Code § 216.16(1). According to the complaint, the ICRC issued right-to-sue notices to Dindinger and Loring on December 29. See id. § 216.16(2)( b ), (3)( a ).

On January 4, 2013, the defendants moved for partial summary judgment. Among other things, the defendants urged the court to dismiss Loring and Dindinger's claims under Iowa Code section 216.6A to the extent they arose before the effective date of that provision (July 1, 2009). Dindinger and Loring countered that section 216.6A should apply retroactively and should permit them to recover lost wages for the entire period they were discriminatorily paid.

The court heard oral arguments on March 26, 2013. The district court's subsequent September 3 certification order provides the background to the present appeal:

At oral argument, the Court asked both sides whether certifying questions of Iowa law to the Iowa Supreme Court would be helpful. Both sides responded that their respective positions were clearly correct and that certification was not necessary. Defendants reevaluated their position, and filed a Motion to Certify arguing that certification would aid in untangling the issue of whether Section 216.6A and its complementary subsection, Iowa Code § 216.15(9)(a)(9), apply retroactively to plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs filed a resistance, defendants filed a reply, and the Court issued its Ruling Granting Defendants' Motion to Certify. The Court also, on its own motion, notified the parties that it may certify the additional and alternative question of the availability and length of time for Section 216.6 wage discrimination damages . . . .

( Footnote omitted.) (Citation omitted.)

After permitting the parties to submit briefs and proposed language on the certification issues, the district court decided to certify two questions to this court to clarify Iowa law with respect to wage discrimination claims.

II. Standard of Review.

As we have said recently,

It is within our discretion to answer certified questions from a United States district court. Iowa Code § 684A.1 (stating the court " may" answer a certified question). We may answer a question certified to us when (1) a proper court certified the question, (2) the question involves a matter of Iowa law, (3) the question " may be determinative of the cause . . . pending in the certifying court," and (4) it appears to the certifying

Page 561

court that there is no controlling Iowa precedent. Id.

Life Investors Ins. Co. of Am. v. Estate of Corrado, 838 N.W.2d 640, 643 (Iowa 2013).

III. Analysis.

A. First Certified Question: Is Iowa Code Section 216.6A Prospective or Retroactive?

In 2009, the general assembly adopted an act " providing that wage discrimination is an unfair employment practice under the Iowa civil rights Act and providing an enhanced remedy." 2009 Iowa Acts ch. 96, preamble. Among other things, the amendment added a new section to the ICRA, section 216.6A. See id. § 2.

Previously, the ICRA made it an unfair or discriminatory practice for an employer " to refuse to hire, accept, register, classify, or refer for employment, to discharge any employee, or to otherwise discriminate in employment . . . because of the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability" of the employee or job applicant. Iowa Code § 216.6(1)( a ). The new section, section 216.6A, provides as follows:

216.6A Additional unfair or discriminatory practice -- wage discrimination in employment.
1. a. The general assembly finds that the practice of discriminating against any employee because of the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability of such employee by paying wages to such employee at a rate less than the rate paid to other employees does all of the following:
(1) Unjustly discriminates against the person receiving the lesser rate.
(2) Leads to low employee morale, high turnover, and frequent labor unrest.
(3) Discourages employees paid at lesser wage rates from training for higher level jobs.
(4) Curtails employment opportunities, decreases employees' mobility, and increases labor costs.
(5) Impairs purchasing power and threatens the maintenance of an adequate standard of living by such employees and their families.
(6) Prevents optimum utilization of the state's available labor resources.
(7) Threatens the well-being of citizens of this state and adversely affects the general welfare.
b. The general assembly declares that it is the policy of this state to correct and, as rapidly as possible, to eliminate, discriminatory wage practices based on age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, and disability.
2. a. It shall be an unfair or discriminatory practice for any employer or agent of any employer to discriminate against any employee because of the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability of such employee by paying wages to such employee at a rate less than the rate paid to other employees who are employed within the same establishment for equal work on jobs, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions. An employer or agent of an employer who is paying wages to an employee at a rate less than the rate paid to other employees in violation of this section shall not remedy the violation by reducing the wage rate of any employee.
b. For purposes of this subsection, an unfair or discriminatory ...

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