Filing a Discrimination Claim - Alabama

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Alabama?

Unlike most other states, Alabama does not have a general state anti-discrimination statute. Alabama does have a statute that covers age discrimination claims against employers with 20 or more employees.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Alabama?

Unlike most other states, Alabama does not have a state administrative agency to accept discrimination charges, which are a prerequisite to pursuing most discrimination claims in court. Therefore, for most discrimination claims, you need to file a sworn charge of discrimination with your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. Some discrimination claims, however, do not require the filing of a charge of discrimination and can be filed directly in court, as discussed below. More information about filing a charge with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/charge/overview_charge_filing.html. You can contact the EEOC at:

EEOC's Birmingham District Office
Ridge Park Place
1130 22nd Street
Suite 2000
Birmingham, AL 32205
Phone: (205) 212-2100 or (800) 669-4000
TTY: (205) 212-2112 or (800) 669-6820

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the EEOC to file a charge. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve most discrimination claims, you must file a sworn charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the date the discriminatory act, though sometimes acts beyond 180 days that are part of a continuing pattern of discrimination can be included so long as one of the acts is within 180 days. Do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You do not want to lose a claim because you could not get a charge filed within 180 days.

You should consult with an attorney prior to filing your charge, if possible. Just because the EEOC helps you file a charge of discrimination does not mean it meets all legal requirements. Further, EEOC personnel are generally not lawyers and cannot be expected to understand all the legal complexities that your case may present. Also, certain discrimination claims do not require an EEOC charge, including a claim under the Alabama age discrimination law, and a lawyer can discuss all of your possible claims with you. Further, important legal strategy decisions often need to be made prior to filing a charge of discrimination. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a charge with the EEOC.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Alabama?

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. Because Alabama does not have a state anti-discrimination law except for an age discrimination law, many Alabama attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal law. A case filed in state court using federal law, however, may be "removed" (transferred) to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The EEOC generally must first issue a document known as "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" or "Notice of Right to Sue" (Form 161) before you can go to court with your claim. A lawsuit 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.) Because 90 days is a short period of time in which to find a lawyer and get the lawsuit filed, you should contact an attorney before receiving the notice.

This 90-day deadline is called a "statute of limitations." If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case. If you receive one of these EEOC letters before you hire an attorney, do not delay consulting with an attorney.

Some employment discrimination claims can be filed in court without first going to the EEOC. The process of going through the EEOC process is called "exhaustion" of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required for some discrimination claims, including Alabama age discrimination claims. Such claims do not require an EEOC charge but still must be filed in court within their applicable statutes of limitation.

To timely file a lawsuit under the Alabama age discrimination law, you must either file suit within 180 days of the discriminatory act or, if an EEOC charge is filed, within 90 days of your receipt of notice of your right to sue from the EEOC.

Other discrimination claims that do not require exhaustion must generally be filed within two to four years. Issues relating to statutes of limitation are complex, and you should consult an attorney knowledgeable in employment law before making any assumptions about your deadlines.