1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Virginia?
The Virginia Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status or disability (physical or mental).
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Virginia?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Virginia Council on Human Rights (VCHR) 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.
The Virginia anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 6 and 14 employees, you should file with the VCHR, 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.
To file a claim with the VCHR, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the VHCR can be found at http://www.chr.state.va.us/index.html.
Council on Human Rights
Suite 1202, Washington Building
1100 Bank Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: (804) 225-2292
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your closest local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.
Norfolk Area Office
Federal Building, Suite 739
200 Granby Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
Richmond Area Office
3600 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23230
Washington Field Office
1400 L Street, N.W. Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20005
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the VCHR 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 VCHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 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.
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 Virginia 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 Virginia?
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 VCHR 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 case. 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 VCHR.
Because Virginia's state anti-discrimination statute does not permit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (intended to punish the employer) that are allowed under federal law, and severely limits attorneys fees and back pay awards, many Virginia attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal law. A case filed in state court using federal law may be subject to removal, which means that a defendant employer requests to move the case to federal court because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161), only then can you 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.) A lawsuit based on your state claim must be filed within 180 days from the date you believe you were discriminated against. An investigation by the VCHR does not delay this deadline. These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations”. Please be aware, however, that you may have other claims arising out of your employment relationship which have shorter statutes of limitations.
If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, 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.