Filing a Discrimination Claim - Washington

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

The Washington State Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a disabled person.

In Washington, courts have determined that Washington state law should be interpreted more broadly than federal law, because it is the state's policy that discrimination invades the underpinnings of a free and democratic state. So in certain cases, protection under state law may be greater than under federal law. In the areas of disability discrimination and sex discrimination, state law provides more coverage to employees.

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

In Washington, it is possible to file a discrimination claim either with the state administrative agency, the Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC), 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 Washington anti-discrimination law covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 8 and 14 employees (or between 1 and 14 employees for wage discrimination claims), you should file with the WSHRC, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. Washington law does not cover religious or sectarian non-profit employers. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency.

Filing with the WSHRC is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. Yet if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the WSHRC can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. WSHRC complaints must be filed within six months of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

To file a claim with the WSHRC, contact the appropriate office below. More information about filing a claim with the WSHRC can be found at http://www.hum.wa.gov/.

Olympia Headquarters Office
711 S. Capitol Way, #402
P.O. Box 42490
Olympia, WA 98504-2490
Phone: (360) 753-6770
Toll-free: (800) 233-3247
TTY: (800) 300-7525
Fax: (360) 586-2282
Areas Served: Western Washington and the Olympics, including Pierce, Thurston, Clark, Lewis, Grays Harbor, and Kitsap Counties

Seattle District Office
Melbourne Tower, #921
1511 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101-1626
Phone: (206) 464-6500
Toll-free: (800) 605-7324
TTY: (206) 587-5168
Fax: (206) 464-7463
Areas Served: Central and North Puget Sound, including King, Snohomish, Skagit, San Juan, Island, and Whatcom Counties
Spokane District Office
Great Western Building, #416
West 905 Riverside Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201-1099
Phone: (509) 456-4473
Fax: (509) 456-4441
Areas Served: Eastern Washington, including Spokane, Whitman, Okanogan, Lincoln, Ferry, and Stevens Counties

Yakima District Office
Liberty Building, # 422
32 North Third Street
Yakima, WA 98901-2730
Phone: (509) 575-2772
Fax: (509) 575-2064
Toll Free: (800) 662-2755 (se habla espanol)
Areas Served: Central Washington, including Yakima, Kittitas, Chelan, Benton, Walla Walla, and Klickitat Counties

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 Seattle District Office
Federal Office Building
909 First Avenue, Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98104-1061
Phone: (206) 220-6883
TTY: (206) 220-6882

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the WSHRC or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for the WSHRC to act on your behalf, you must file with the WSHRC (or cross-file with the EEOC) within six months of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve a claim of discrimination 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.

You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or ordinance. Some cities and counties in Washington (including Seattle and Tacoma) have agencies that accept claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the Human Rights Commission, Human Relations Commission, or the Civil Rights Commission. Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.

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

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 WSHRC 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 the EEOC dismisses the charge. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to proceed with your state claims.

Because state court does not require a unanimous jury and state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many Washington attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court. However, cases may be brought 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. Punitive damages (damages that punish the employer) may not be awarded under state law.

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.) Any cases filed in Washington state court must be filed within 3 years 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 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.