Filing a Discrimination Claim - District of Columbia

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, age (over age 18), gender, personal appearance, sexual orientation, marital status or family responsibilities, political affiliation, matriculation, or physical disability.

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.?

A discrimination claim with either 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.

You should file with the OHR if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, as 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. Yet 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 http://ohr.dc.gov/ohr/cwp/view,a,3,q,638018.asp.

Office of Human Rights
441 4th Street, NW,
Suite 570 North
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 727-4559

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 http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC's Washington Field Office
1400 L Street, N.W. Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 275-7377
TTY: (202) 275-7518

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, 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 district and federal administrative agencies.

4. 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 (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 OHR or EEOC, and you may 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 DC or federal court.

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 DC 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 1 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.