Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, physical or mentaldisability,HIV status, and for asserting a claim to worker’s compensation.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Vermont?
The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, place of birth, age (age 18 and over), handicap (disability) and HIV status.
Vermont law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it determines whether a disabled employee is eligible for legal protection without considering the mitigating measures taken by that employee to address his or her disability.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Vermont?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Vermont Human Rights Commission (VHRC) VHRC, the Civil Rights Unit of the Vermont Attorne General’s (AG’s) office, or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The VHRC and the EEOC 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 VHRC handles discrimination claims against state government employment, whereas the Civil Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s office is responsible for enforcing the state laws that prohibits workplace discrimination. The Civil Rights Unit is a deferral agency for the EEOC so they can also handle complaints of discrimination under federal law.
The EEOC enforces federal law, and only covers employers with 15 or more employees.
Filing with the VHRC or the AG is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. If you do not have an attorney, however, you may wish to see whether the VHRC or AG can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court.
To file a claim with the VHRC, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the VHRC can be found at the VHRC website.
Vemont Human Rights Commission
To file a claim with the Civil Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s office, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim can be found on the Employment Discrimination Questionnaire .
Office of Attorney General
Civil Rights Unit
109 State St
Montpelier, VT 05609
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC Filing a Charge website.
EEOC — Boston Area Office
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 VHRC or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these agencies to act on your behalf, you must file with the VHRC or EEOC 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, however, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies. State law may permit longer filing deadlines, but it is important to pursue these claims promptly, before it becomes more difficult to locate relevant documents and witnesses.
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, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they 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 Vermont?
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 VHRC the attorney general has the authority pursue your claim in Superior Court. The Superior Courts can order reinstatement and other appropriate relief on behalf of the employee.
If you also file a claim with the EEOC, they first issue a 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 notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney.
A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 3 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against. (Because the law is unclear, some attorneys argue you can file a case within 6 years, but to be safe, your case should be filed within 3 years if possible).
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.
Because Vermont law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim that are capped under federal law, many Vermont attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law. It is also easier in Vermont state court to prevent summary judgment (a dismissal of the case prior to trial after presenting disputed and undisputed facts to a judge), according to some attorneys.