1. What kinds of discrimination are against the law in Washington, D.C.?
The D.C. Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation.
The D.C. Human Rights Law is also broader than federal law because you may prove your case by showing that your employer acted wholly or partially for discriminatory reasons, and because you can bring an individual claim against your supervisor for “aiding and abetting” discrimination.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Washington, D.C.?
You can file a discrimination claim with the district’s administrative agency, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) 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.
If your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you should file with the OHR since only the local anti-discrimination law covers DC employers of this size. Otherwise, some attorneys recommend that you file with the EEOC. Filing with the OHR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court under the D.C. Human Rights Law. If you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the OHR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. OHR complaints must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
To file a claim with the OHR, consult its office below. More information about filing a claim with the OHR can be found at the OHR website.
Office of Human Rights
441 4th Street, NW
Suite 570 North
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 727-4559
Fax: (202) 727-9589
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC How to File page.
EEOC’s Washington Field Office
131 M Street, NE
Forth Floor, Suite 4NWO2F
Washington, D.C. 20507
Phone: (800) 669-4000
TTY: (800) 669-6820
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 OHR 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 OHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within one year or with the EEOC (or cross-file with OHR) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, since 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. 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 district and federal administrative agencies.
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, they may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they 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 Washington, D.C.?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. You probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims to resolve your case. If your case is not resolved by the OHR or EEOC and you want 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. Exhaustion is not required to file a discrimination claim in court based on D.C. law.
Because D.C. law does not limit the damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many D.C. attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in D.C. Superior Court. However, most cases may be brought in either D.C. or federal court.
Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” 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 D.C. court within 90 days after the date you receive the notice. Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice. A lawsuit based on your D.C. discrimination claim must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these EEOC notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case in court.
Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman
Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire
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