1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Florida?
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Florida?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies 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. However, an attorney may advise you to file separately with both agencies, because of an existing legal debate over the state and federal administrative processes and how they affect an employee's ability to file a state claim in court.
The Florida anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law for age discrimination claims only. Therefore, if your workplace has between 15 and 20 employees, you should file your age discrimination claim with the FCHR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 20 or more employees in age discrimination cases, and 15 or more employees in other types of discrimination cases. Otherwise, some attorneys suggest you file with the EEOC first, to best preserve your federal discrimination claim.
To file a claim with the FCHR, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the FCHR can be found at: http://fchr.state.fl.us.
Florida Commission on Human Relations
2009 Apalachee Parkway
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Phone: (850) 488-7082
Toll-Free: (800) 342-8170
Fax: (850) 488-5291
Florida Relay Service —
TDD ASCII Callers: (800) 955-1339
TDD Baudot Callers: (800) 955-8771
Voice Callers: (800) 955-8770
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact the nearest local EEOC office. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.
EEOC — Miami District Office
One Biscayne Tower
2 South Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33131
Phone: (305) 536-4491
TTY: (305) 536-5721
EEOC — Tampa Area Office
501 East Polk Street, 10th Floor
Tampa, FL 33602
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the FCHR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the FCHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 365 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (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 your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Florida?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, 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). If your case is not resolved by the FCHR or EEOC, and you maywant to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the FCHR. (Please note that if the FCHR makes a finding of “no cause,”—a finding that your case is without merit—you are not allowed to go to court under state law; instead, you must appeal this determination through the administrative process only.)
Because Florida state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many Florida attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal and state 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. Punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) are limited or capped at $100,000 under state law, but may be awarded under federal law, subject to limits or caps based on the size of the employer.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your 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.)
After your case has been pending with FCHR for 180 days, you may go ahead and file a lawsuit, as long as the FCHR has not already issued a “no cause” finding in your case. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within four years of the alleged discriminatory action(s),” or 1 year of the date the FCHR has issued a “probable cause” determination in your case.
These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.