Filing a Discrimination Claim - Tennessee

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

The Tennessee Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin. A separate law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of physical, mental or visual disability.

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

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC), 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 Tennessee anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 8 and 14 employees, you should file with the THRC, 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. Additionally, the Tennessee Disability Act, which prohibits disability discrimination, applies to all employers in Tennessee, regardless of the number of employees.

To file a claim with the THRC, contact your closest office below. More information about filing a claim with the THRC can be found at http://www.state.tn.us/humanrights.

General Information Statewide
Phone: 800-251-3589

Nashville Office:
710 James Robertson Parkway
Suite 100
Corner of Rosa Parks Blvd
Nashville, TN 37243-1219
Phone: (615) 741-5825
Fax/3rd Floor: (615) 253-1886
Fax/4th Floor: (615) 532-2197

Memphis Office:
170 North Main Street
State Office Building
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 543-7389
Fax: (901) 543-6042
Chattanooga Office:
540 McCallie Avenue
Fourth Floor West Wing
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Phone: (423) 634-6837
Fax: (423) 634-6986

Knoxville Office:
531 Henley Street
Room 701
Knoxville, TN 37902
Phone: (865) 594-6500
Fax: (865) 594-6178

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your closest 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 Memphis District Office
1407 Union Avenue
Suite 521
Memphis, TN 38104
Phone: (901) 544-0115
TTY: (901) 544-0112
EEOC's Nashville Area Office
50 Vantage Way
Suite 202
Nashville, TN 37228
Phone: (615) 736-5820
TTY: (615) 736-5870

3. What are my time deadlines?

In order to preserve one's rights under state law, you can, but it is not required to, file a claim of discrimination with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed with the THRC or EEOC. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the THRC within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. There is the option of filing a lawsuit in a state court in addition to or instead of filing with the THRC. Filing with the THRC does not toll the one year statute of limitations for filing in court. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the 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, 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 Tennessee?

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 THRC 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 state law.

Because state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages but does not provide for the punitive damages (intended to punish the employer), damages that are allowed under federal law, many Tennessee attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court using federal and state law. However, most cases may be filed in either state or federal court. 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.

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 state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) A lawsuit based upon your state discrimination claim must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against (an investigation by the THRC does not delay this deadline). 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, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.