1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Georgia?
Georgia is an employment-at-will state, meaning an employer can terminate you for any reason or no reason at all, so long as it is not a discriminatory reason protected by a federal or state anti-discrimination statute. In Georgia, most discrimination cases are brought under the federal cases because the state has only a few discrimination statutes, such as an equal pay act, , disability, age, religion, but most have only limited damages and sometimes cannot be brought by an individual. Unlike most other states, Georgia does not have a general state anti-discrimination statute covering private employees. Georgia's state anti-discrimination statute covers only discrimination claims for state employees. The Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978 makes it unlawful for a state agency to discriminate against any individual on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, color or retaliation. Individuals with sexual harassment claims may have claims that can be brought in state court, depending on the nature of the harassment. Teachers and others working for public school systems may have some rights concerning termination and discrimination under the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act. Additionally, Georgia recently passed a whistle-blower law that provides that an employee cannot be terminated for making a complaint or disclosing information to his or her public employer unless information disclosed with knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Georgia?
Unlike most other states, Georgia does not have a state administrative agency to process discrimination claims. However, there are some cities and counties that have their own agency (such as Savannah and Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations, so make sure you check your geographic location.
In order to file a claim, you will need to consult your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. Georgia has office in Atlanta and one in Savannah. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html. You can file a charge with or without an attorney. You can also file in person at the EEOC, or email or fax your charge to the agency. Be aware that the Atlanta District office has a tendency to lose documents. Make sure you have ask for a copy of the questionnaire and/or charge in case the intake personnel fails to include all of your claims
EEOC's Atlanta District Office
100 Alabama Street
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: (404) 562-6800
TTY: (404) 562-6801
EEOC's Savannah Local Office
410 Mall Boulevard
Savannah, GA 31406-4821
Phone: (912) 652-4234
TTY: (912) 652-4439
In order to file a claim if you are a state employee, you will need to consult the Equal Employment Division of the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity (CEO). More information about filing a claim with the Georgia CEO can be found at www.gceo.state.ga.us.
Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity (CEO)
Equal Employment Division
229 Peachtree St. NE
Suite 710, International Tower
Atlanta, GA 30303-1605
Toll-Free: (800) 493-OPEN
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the EEOC or the CEO to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim, you must file with the EEOC or CEO within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as other applicable legal claims may have shorter deadlines, do not wait until your time limit is close to expiring to file your claim. 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 your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in Georgia have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Georgia?
If your case is successfully resolved by 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, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney before filing with the EEOC, as the administrative process can be difficult for non-lawyers to navigate successfully.) If your case is not resolved by the EEOC, and you want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case for sex, age, or disability 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. Exhaustion is not required for state claims, due to the lack of a state statute and administrative agency. The EEOC sometimes tells you to ask for a right to sue letter when you first file your claim. This is not a good idea until the EEOC investigates the matter and you have found an attorney. Once you get a right to sue letter, you only have 90 calendar days to file a federal lawsuit. If you miss the 90 day period, you will lose forever the right to complain about some types of discrimination.
Because Georgia does not have a state anti-discrimination statute, many Georgia attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in 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.
If the EEOC finishes investigating your case and you are not happy with the results and want to proceed with a lawsuit 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.) If you have received one of these EEOC letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney.
This deadline is 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.