Filing a Discrimination Claim - New Mexico

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

The New Mexico Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, age, physical or mental handicap, or serious medical condition. Due to more recent changes, the Act forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity if there are at least fifteen employees.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in New Mexico?

In New Mexico, it is possible to file a discrimination claim either with the state administrative agency, the New Mexico Human Rights Division (HRD) 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 New Mexico anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 4 and 14 employees, you should file with the HRD, 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. However, some attorneys recommend that you file with the HRD first for all types of discrimination claims since they believe the HRD's process is easier for employees than the EEOC's process.

To file a claim with the HRD, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the HRD can be found at http://www.dws.state.nm.us/dws-humanrights.html.

New Mexico Human Rights Division
1596 Pacheco Street
Aspen Plaza, Suite 103
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Phone: (505) 827-6838
Toll-Free: (800) 566-9471

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 Albuquerque District Office
505 Marquette Street, N.W.
Suite 900
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Phone: (505) 248-5201
TTY: (505) 248-5240

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the HRD 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 HRD (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.

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

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 HRD or EEOC, and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and the EEOC dismisses the charge. 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 HRD.

Because New Mexico law does not limit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many New Mexico attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court. However, cases may be brought in either state or federal court. Punitive damages (damages which punish the employer) are available only under federal law, however. 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.

Only once the EEOC issues the document known as Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue (Form 161) 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.) After your case has been pending with the HRD for 180 days, then you may request a similar non-determination order from HRD to proceed with your state claim. A lawsuit based on your state claim must be filed within 30 days after your non-determination order from HRD. These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, 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.