1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Alaska?
The Alaska Human Rights Law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, and physical or mental disability. And, in some instances, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of age, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. A separate law , along with the Human Rights Law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental illness.
In Alaska, courts have determined that Alaska law should be interpreted more broadly than federal law, because it is the mission of the state to eradicate discrimination, so in certain cases protection under state law may be greater than under federal law.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Alaska?
A discrimination claim must be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights (ASCHR), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have a work-sharing agreement, which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with each agency is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to cross-file the claim with the other agency.
The Alaska anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 2 and 14 employees, you should file with the ASCHR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency.
Filing with the ASCHR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court, but if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the ASCHR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. ASCHR complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
To file a claim with the ASCHR, contact its office. More information about filing a claim with the ASCHR can be found at http://www.gov.state.ak.us/aschr/.
Alaska State Commission for Human Rights
800 A Street, Suite 204
Anchorage, AK 99501-3669
Toll-Free Complaint Hot Line (in-state only): (800) 478-4692
TTY/TDD (Anchorage Area): (907) 276-3177
Phone (Anchorage Area): (907) 274-4692
TTY/TDD Toll-Free Complaint Hot Line (in-state only): (800) 478-3177
To file a claim with the EEOC, you must contact your local office. The EEOC’s San Francisco District Office has jurisdiction over Alaska.
EEOC's Seattle San Francisco District Office
Federal Office Building 450 Golden Gate Avenue
909 First Avenue, Suite 400 5 West, P.O. Box 36025
Seattle, WA 98104-1061 San Francisco, CA 94102-3661
Phone: (206800) 220-6883 669-4000
TTYFax: (206415) 220-6882522-3415
If you are unable to file a claim in person, you are able to file a charge by mail by sending a letter that includes the following information:
- Your name, address, and telephone number
- The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file your charge against
- The number of employees employed there (if known)
- A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were fired, demoted, harassed)
- When the events took place
- Your signature
Don’t forget to sign your letter. You must sign the letter in order for the EEOC to investigate your claim.
Your letter will be reviewed and if more information is needed, the EEOC will contact you. Then, the EEOC will put the information into an official EEOC charge form and ask you to sign it.
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the ASCHR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for the ASCHR to act on your behalf, you must file (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. In order for the EEOC to act on your behalf, you must file (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until the deadline is close. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. But if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
If you live or work in Anchorage, you may also wish to check with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission within 120 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. This local antidiscrimination agency processes claims under the city's ordinance and may also be able to assist you.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC/ASCHR?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, they may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If the EEOC decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If it is determined that discrimination occurred then the EEOC will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
If you file a charge with ASCHR, the investigation and resolution process will be substantially similar to the EEOC process.
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Alaska?
If your case is successfully resolved by the ASCHR or EEOC, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). However, if your case is not resolved you may need to pursue your claim in court.
Under federal law, an employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court until the claim is filed with the EEOC. This process is called "exhaustion" of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to file a discrimination claim in court based on state law.
Because Alaska state law limits the damages and attorneys fees for a discrimination claim, many attorneys in Alaska choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court using federal law. However, most cases may be filed in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be removed to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute such as Title VII or the ADEA.
The EEOC must first issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue, before you can file a case in court based on a federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) If you have received one of these EEOC notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney.
Any cases filed in Alaska state court must be filed within 2 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.