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Your Rights Filing a Discrimination Claim - Arkansas

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1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Arkansas?

The Arkansas Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate because of race, religion, national origin, gender, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability.[1] The Arkansas employment discrimination provision covers workplaces with fewer than 15 employees, which is the cutoff for many federal protections.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Arkansas?

Unlike most other states, Arkansas does not have a state administrative agency to accept discrimination charges, which are a prerequisite to pursuing most discrimination claims in court. Therefore, for most discrimination claims, you need to file a sworn charge of discrimination with your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office.

More information about filing a charge with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm. You can contact the EEOC at:

EEOC's Memphis District Office
1407 Union Avenue
9th Floor
Memphis, TN 38104
Phone: (800) 669-4000 
TTY: (800) 669-6820
Office Hours: Monday - Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

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
  • Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, gender (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), or disability)
  • 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 EEOC to file a charge. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve most discrimination claims, you must file a sworn charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the date the discriminatory act, though sometimes acts beyond 180 days that are part of a continuing pattern of discrimination can be included so long as one of the acts is within 180 days. Do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You do not want to lose a claim because you could not get a charge filed within 180 days.

If possible, you should consult with an attorney prior to filing your charge. Just because the EEOC helps you file a charge of discrimination does not mean it meets all legal requirements. Further, EEOC personnel are generally not lawyers and cannot be expected to understand all the legal complexities that your case may present. Further, important legal strategy decisions often need to be made prior to filing a charge of discrimination. If you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a charge with the EEOC.

To timely file your lawsuit, you must file within 90 days of your receipt of notice of your right to sue from the EEOC.

4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?

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, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents.  Once the investigation is complete, the EEOC 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 the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they 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).

5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Arkansas?

If your case is successfully resolved the 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 Arkansas state law limits the damages and attorneys fees for a discrimination claim, many attorneys in Arkansas 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 Arkansas state court must be filed within 1 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.[2]

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.

[1] Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 § 16-123-107.

 

[2] § 16-123-107(B)(3).